Navy tests virtual medical command center

ABOARD THE USS CORONADO—The Navy's 3rd Fleet, known for its exploits during World War II under Adm. William F. "Bull" Halsey, last week launched an experiment using information technology to better coordinate the medical care of military and civilian patients.

Under the auspices of the Fleet Battle Experiment "Echo," which began last week off the coast of northern California, the Navy has revamped the flagship USS Coronado to include a virtual command and control center focused solely on enhancing medical support to military personnel and local civilians during times of crisis. The goal of the battle exercise is to identify information technologies that are capable of supporting new naval strategies and tactics.

The project links two centers aboard the Coronado: the Joint Medical Center, which coordinates the fleet's medical operations, and the new Civil-Military Operations Center, which provides civilian authorities and nongovernmental organizations, such as the Red Cross, with access to the Navy's medical network.

The link between the Joint Medical Center and CMOC represents "the first virtual [medical] workspace ever developed afloat," said Dr. Eric Rasmussen, the 3rd Fleet's surgeon.

From the Joint Medical Center, Rasmussen can exercise command and control over the fleet's medical staff as well as communicate with the rest of the Defense Department's medical community using workstations connected to the Secret Internet Protocol Router Network. In addition, a 1M wireless infrared link enables him to conduct real-time video teleconferences with civilian authorities in the CMOC.

In addition, "we combined our [information management software] with a Lotus Notes backbone that links the United Nations, the World Health Organization, the International Community of the Red Cross and others into a very comprehensive set of databases that allow everybody to see all of the resources that need to be brought to bear," Rasmussen said.

Other tools being tested during the exercise include modeling and simulation applications to help predict casualties, language software to help care-givers communicate with non-English-speaking people and databases that provide in-transit patient visibility.

"But technology is not the point," Rasmussen said. "We're here to care for people who are sick or injured, whether civilian or military."

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