High Tech Military Med Tech
by Jullie Chung, Managing Editor
For seven years now the United States has had to call upon our armed forces to represent the United States and defend freedom far from home. In a state of war lives are always at risk, and the men and women of our Armed Forces are put in harm’s way. At no point is this ever taken lightly, and even in times of peace ongoing research is constantly dedicated to improve and ensure the welfare of our soldiers in every scenario and under all conditions they may be faced with.
Combat Casualty Care is an area of research that is of prime importance in the field of military medicine. Military organizations such as the Department of Defense, the US Army Medical Research and Material Command, the US Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine, and the Military Operational Medicine Research Program dedicate much of their time and resources to the research and development of techniques and devices to improve the quality and outcome of combat casualty care.
Combat casualty care refers to a system of pre-hospital care administered under combat conditions. This type of care includes battlefield care as well as trauma care administered once the soldier is removed from the combat environment and is en route to a medical facility. The ongoing goal of research in this field is to decrease the battlefield mortality rate, to reduce the morbidity of injuries sustained in combat, to reduce the medical foot print left on the battlefield, and to overcome the myriad of complications arising from the need for medical attention in combat situations.
When considering the logistics and/or chaos of battlefield conditions, there are a wealth of arenas where military medicine seeks to make improvements and provide solutions. Just one of these areas is in the sphere of soldier status and monitoring.
Similar to static patient monitors that exist in ambulances and hospitals, military medicine has been conducting ongoing research for more than ten years towards development of an active, real-time system to monitor and observe the physiological status of each individual soldier while out in the field. Referred to as the Warfighter Physiological Status Monitor (WPSM), this device has recently been tested and is undergoing constant development and improvement.
Like a hospital patient monitor, the Warfighter Physiological Status Monitor relays information such as heart rate, respiration, and core temperature. However, each soldier is monitored remotely from a central command as opposed to the individual being hard-wired to a static monitor. Soldier monitor feeds can route back to locations as immediate as the Commanding Officer, or as remote as a central command location.
The functional goal of the WPSM is to provide a comprehensive, on-going assessment of soldier status at all times under all conditions. With real time information from each soldier, officers can better assess and estimate the risk of any given operation based on soldiers’ vital signs and responses to the given environment. Additionally, under live or “hot” combat situations, individual monitors provide key information to rapidly locate, identify, triage, and treat any combat casualties.
Conceptually, the WPSM will monitor every aspect of the soldier’s combat state. Aside from the obvious vital signs, researchers are developing algorithms to assess soldier function and performance in long term heat or long term cold exposure, uphill and downhill slope conditions, load carriage, and terrain adaptations. Physical monitoring will extend as deeply and intricately as body orientation, skin temperature, fluid retention, soldier sleep cycles, rest and activity ratios, and even ballistic impact detection and assessment.
Ultimately, the WPSM will be equipped to provide feedback on soldiers’ mental status as well. This capability will be key in assessing and monitoring soldier readiness and fitness for any given combat situation. Cognitive function, psychomotor functions, mood, and anxiety level can all be transmitted based on algorithms drawn from empirical information such as blood flow to the brain, pupil responses, voice fluctuation, cardiac parameters, glucose levels, and electroencephalography.
In a compact, lightweight, weather-proof form, researchers hope to integrate the Warfighter Physiological Status Monitor as part of the Future Force Warrior combat system.
Recently, the US Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine and the Civil Support Team-Weapons of Mass Destruction (CST-WMD) conducted a field test of a Warfighter Physiological Status Monitor prototype. The WPSM was utilized in enclosed environment situations (i.e. tunnels, sewers, septic tanks) in order to test the efficacy of the unit in remote locations, as well as to monitor the physical state of the wearer under those conditions. Additionally, the WPSM was tested with firefighters in limited access locations. Both series of prototype tests yielded positive results and provided important feedback on the physiological state of the user while performing their required task.
Though under development with a focus on use in the military, the success of the Warfighter Physiological Status Monitor would serve the civilian sector as well. In conjunction with recent advancements in telemedicine, remote status monitor technology could assist greatly in providing more advanced medical treatment for individuals in rural settings, as well as assisting the elderly or those in critical condition with limited mobility or access.
The Warfighter Physiological Status Monitor is just one of many combat casualty care solutions under research and development. In the interest of protecting and caring for the soldiers of our armed forces, military medicine continues to advance ideas and technology to provide contingencies and answers for all possible combat casualty care obstacles.