Petty Officer 3rd Class David Riley uses the experimental Tactical Telemedicine radio during the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab's limited objective experiment 2.2 at Fort Pickett, Va., in August 2012. (Lt. Cmdr. Henry S. Warren / Navy)
A new device could allow corpsmen to track and record the vital signs of wounded Marines and do a real-time consult with a doctor offshore — all from the fog and furor of the combat zone.
The tablet-style Tactical Telemedicine radio will leverage advances in modern telemedicine that have allowed civilian doctors to consult with patients in far-flung regions via video-chat and even diagnose and remotely treat those who are injured in inaccessible areas, said Lt. Cmdr. David Gribben, branch head for Expeditionary Medicine at the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab in Quantico, Va.
“Even in the Navy, we’ve been beaming radiology images from ships to [Walter Reed National Military Medical Center] Bethesda for some time now,” he said. “We’re trying to leverage the advances from the private sector in that regard: How can we take what happens at the tip of the spear in the battlefield so we can send information from the battlefield back to the ER?”
The device that officials envision is a shoebox-size one-stop shop for urgent patient care.
Gribben said the device would measure vital signs and have the ability to beam them back to a ship or larger headquarters. As technologies develop in the medical industry, officials hope to make the device capable of diagnosing shock from the wounded patient’s symptoms and responses.
“It will have a blood pressure cuff, it will have leads, it will have a pulsometer,” Gribben said.
It will also have a camera and a microphone, he said, so the corpsman can connect rapidly and securely to a more experienced doctor or specialist off-site, giving them real-time access to whatever he is observing.
The unit would also be lightweight enough to hump and reliable in a crisis, he said.
“Every ounce we take up in that pack is an IV or a bandage that [the corpsman] can’t take in that pack,” Gribben said. “The [prototypes] we’ve seen now definitely would fit in their packs.”
The device could also revolutionize how medical information is transferred from the combat zone.
Ideally, when a Marine is wounded today, the corpsman fills out a card as he prepares the Marine for medical evacuation or transfers care to another provider, Gribben said. “In more hasty and stressful environments, the vitals are written with sharpie somewhere on the patient,” he added.
In addition to providing a secure, accessible place to track medical information and provide it — in a timeline — to future caregivers, its automatic measuring and analytical devices will not be affected by the subjective factors of combat zone operations.
“The device won’t know that the environment is stressful,” he said.
Warfighting Lab personnel are experimenting with off-the-shelf hardware and existing technologies to arrive at a device that meets all of their requirements and can function on a secure military network or channel — a necessity for patient privacy as well as operational security.
“What we want to do is nest our requirements with the Marines’ envisioned communication networks of the future,” Gribben said.
Versions of the device are set to be tested at an Advanced Warfighting Experiment, taking place during the joint exercise Rim of the Pacific in summer 2014.
But while officials at the Warfighting Lab said Marine leaders have been very supportive of the development of Tactical Telemedicine despite budget austerity, the cost of the device may present an obstacle for widespread fielding: Gribben said they currently cost around $35,000 per unit, thought he expects that figure to drop as more are produced.