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Why investments in equipping our armed forces with medical tech makes a difference on and off the field
By: Stephen Hicks, Category Manager, ADS, Inc.
Technology must be responsive and adapt more effectively than human output – nowhere is this more important than in the field, in an active combat scenario. Medical issues in combat can be wide-ranging, but there are three major causes of death on the battlefield: uncontrollable hemorrhage, airway compromise, and tension pneumothorax.
While some treatment solutions have been used since the dawn of humanity, new technologies have helped save hundreds of lives in battle through speeding up the treatment process, creating more efficient methods of care delivery, and adapting to a soldier’s unique in-field experiences.
Technology At Work in the Field
Treating these traumas in less-than-desirable conditions adds a higher degree of difficulty. Hospitals and trauma centers tend to have all the tools needed on hand to treat these medical conditions, but military teams and first responders are often traveling with fewer resources, and time is of the essence. Medical technologists work to develop field-ready devices that are portable, deploy at record speed, and are cost-effective for wide use across diverse emergency situations.
One such innovation is Quick Tube, a thoracic catheter device that effectively stabilizes airway compromise in the field in a fraction of the time typically seen in hospitals. More than 1 million chest tubes are placed annually in the United States. The developers of Quick Tube saw a challenge in simplifying a difficult and relatively slow procedure to treat a common problem. This solution doesn’t require extra tools that thoracic tubes normally require – it is single-use, pliable for patient movement and repositioning, and deploys in 30-45 seconds rather than the standard eight minutes. Innovations in combat-ready medical technology turn dangerous and often involved treatment processes and improve the survival rate of those in the field.
Non-Combat Tech Developments
Outside of combat or live emergency situations, technology can be just as effective in making a difference for our armed forces and first responders. Most medical practitioners go through years of rigorous training, and armed forces technicians take that training to another level.
Soldiers may have to contend with unforeseen conditions such as loud noises, gunshots and explosions, temperature changes, and they need to keep just as calm and collected when applying medical care. To do this, they prepare for various scenarios with the latest training technologies to simulate every experience in the field.
High-tech dummies that act and react like real humans are effective innovations that are used to train armed forces. Treating hemorrhagic wounds is an essential skill for soldiers, who must learn through training exercises how to encourage clotting at speed in a pre-hospital environment. Tools like the Wound Cube are designed to accurately depict the texture and feel of a traumatic injury, to train soldiers and first responders on the less instinctive but most effective techniques for treatment.
2020 Showcased Cracks in the System
Armed forces also include first responders, state and national guardsmen and women are often called to respond to states of emergency and crisis – such was the case at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
This pandemic illustrated just how important it is for our military to stay ahead of technological development, for the survival of front-line responders and effective resolution of any medical crisis. Personal protective equipment – or PPE – came into the spotlight in the early weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic – KN-95 masks, nitrile gloves, gowns and face shields were all hard to come by as front-line workers struggled to fight the novel coronavirus. It exposed cracks in our system, where limited and un-reusable resources were not available at scale.
Throughout the past year, we have learned from our missteps and technologists with a future-forward vision are already working to develop more tech-savvy solutions for first responders whether they are in a trauma center or in the field. The pandemic jumpstarted projects from tech designers and UX experts like the Razer smart mask and the JustAir mask, concepts that can protect first responders and civilians alike with power-generated HEPA filters, air sensors, and thoughtful designs.
Only through deep understanding of our armed forces’ in-field experience can we begin to leverage technology to serve a greater good. Just as our personal tech is getting smaller, faster, and more adaptable to our daily lives, so too is medical tech for our armed forces.