New telemedicine enters combat

As the United States began its attack on Iraq yesterday, military forces deployed new telemedicine tools that were unavailable in the previous conflict in the Persian Gulf.

"It is like night and day compared to the Gulf War," said Jeffrey Howell, who runs the Naval Telemedicine Business Office. "Telemedicine has come a [long] way. We're running at a very fast pace as all technology is."

For instance, GTSI Corp. has created a self-contained telecommunications system that is designed to support a hospital in a combat zone without the need for paper forms and files.

The Navy's Fleet Hospital asked the Chantilly, Va., reseller to develop the hardware solution to support a hospital with up to 500 beds, operating rooms and ancillary services. The system fits into four rugged cases, and two units already have been sent to the Middle East to support the war with Iraq.

The new technology is part of a strategy to treat injured people outside a traditional hospital setting in the first "golden hour" when care may mean the difference between life and death. It includes the concept of "forward surgery" to swiftly treat the wounded instead of just stabilizing them and transporting them back to a carrier.

"Forward surgery takes the operating room out of the hospital, puts it into the forward environment, provides life-saving resuscitative surgery early and quickly," said Rear Adm. John Mateczun, the Joint Staff surgeon, in a recent briefing. "In fact, this strategy has been so successful that of those people who have made it back to forward surgical teams, all have survived."

Navy carriers currently have computer and teleradiology capacity, but this is a system that takes medicine to new frontiers, according to Howell.

The GTSI system supports the network that enables the Navy's Fleet Hospitals to treat patients from field hospitals equipped with high-tech communications devices.

"X-rays can be sent anywhere in the world to be read," Howell said. "They get attention immediately. They get turned around in an hour around-the-clock."

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