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News | June 13, 2014

U.S. military medical unit integrates new technology in hurricane response exercise

By Capt. Steven Stubbs Joint Task Force-Bravo Public Affairs

In preparation for the 2014 hurricane season, the Joint Task Force-Bravo Medical Element (MEDEL) conducted a humanitarian assistance/disaster response (HADR) exercise June 12, 2014.

The MEDEL's mission was to establish a forward medical treatment operation capable of providing triage, primary care, surgical capabilities, patient holding and evacuation.

As part of this exercise, a suite of mobile technology applications that run on smartphones and tablets were used to enhance the capabilities of the unit: Global MedAid, Medical Application of Speech Translation (MAST) and GeoSHAPE.

The Global MedAid application is a data capture solution for use in documenting the care and treatment of the injured that enables medical personnel to track patients from triage until they are released from the facility.

"When a patient arrives, I enter their name, age and injuries into the system," stated U. S Army Pfc. Anisa Hernandez, MEDEL human resource specialist. "Next, I'll take their picture with the tablet and scan the patient's armband so the medical record and information will follow them wherever they go in our facility."

"Global MedAid incorporates patient tracking in an event like this where you don't necessarily have all of a person's information," said U. S. Army Lt. Col. Michael Alvis, MEDEL deputy commander. "But we can tie a name to an armband and then that way we can track a patient's progress from first being seen, treated and then evacuated. We can also receive real-time reports of how many patients have been treated whereas in the past we would have to manually tabulate that figure at the end of the day."

The MAST application contains an English-Spanish translation capability that allowed MEDEL doctors and other medical personnel to effectively communicate medical information with patients during their treatment. The Telemedicine & Advanced Technology Research Center (TATRC), an organization under the U.S. Army Medical Research & Materiel Command, developed and tested the translation program during an earlier field test in Honduras where 1,500 patients were treated in a three day period with the help of the application.

GeoSHAPE comprises a web-based platform for creating, updating and sharing geospatially tagged events, as well as a mobile application for capturing data and photos in the field. The software program integrates data from multiple sources and displays it in a dynamic Internet-based map to provide situational awareness and facilitate the decision making process by disaster relief leaders.

"GeoSHAPE bridges the geospatial information sharing gaps we witnessed during the international response to the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, providing a tool for military and civil organizations, local and international, to efficiently coordinate their activities and, in turn, save more lives," says Juan Hurtado, science advisor to the U.S. Southern Command (USSOUTHCOM).

One way MEDEL utilized GeoSHAPE was to conduct a route reconnaissance to their deployment site.

"The GeoSHAPE application helped me to document the route we would travel to the medical site," said U. S. Army Capt. Erin Velazquez, MEDEL deputy operations officer. "As we were driving, an obstruction had blocked the road so an alternate route had to be used. I was able to label the obstruction on the GeoSHAPE map, locate an alternate route and synchronize the information with other GeoSHAPE users."

For the past two years, TATRC has been working with the MEDEL to design and develop mobile applications that can be used by military medical personnel to improve readiness and performance for these types of contingency operations and other health engagements. In addition, these tools can be shared with Honduras and other international partners to help build capacity for use of technology towards improving national and international health systems.

The MEDEL is the primary emergency medical responder for the U.S. Southern Command region. In the past, MEDEL has supported multiple Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster relief efforts in response to natural and manmade disasters that include but have not been limited to hurricanes, flooding, mud slides, and earthquakes.

Cadets from the Honduran Air Force Academy assisted MEDEL by assuming the role of hurricane victims in the exercise.