DoD Discusses Force Medical Protection Initiatives

Washington, December 16, 1997 (GulfLINK)- - The Department of Defense recently announced dramatic new initiatives to improve force medical protection. Director of the Joint Staff Vice Admiral Dennis C. Blair and Army Surgeon General Lt. General Ronald R. Blanck reported that these initiatives constitute a "revolution in medical affairs" that is part of an overall plan which affects doctrine, operational concepts and capabilities for U.S. military forces.

"We're learning from each of our deployments and we've done about 40 of them since Desert Storm ... 40 major ones," said Blair. "Each time we're plowing the lessons back in, making it better, and making it healthier for our people. Our disease and non-battle injuries in Bosnia are setting new records in terms of success, better than the Gulf War which is better than all of the operations previously."

Many new health surveillance initiatives have been implemented in Operation Joint Endeavor (Bosnia). Pre-deployment medical activities have included comprehensive health screening and the collection and storage of serum samples for retrospective analysis. Disease trends were identified and corrective action taken. Overall force health status was reported to the theater commander, as well as briefed twice a month to the TriCare Readiness Council.

Another initiative advanced in Bosnia has been environmental and medical surveillance. More than 2,200 soil, water and air samples have been collected and subjected to 112,000 analyses. Forward-deployed medical laboratories provide immediate diagnostic support. The results have been used to ensure deployed forces are not subjected to environmental threats. For example, due to early detection of the threat of tick-borne encephalitis, deploying troops were promptly vaccinated and the force has had no reported cases of the disease.

"It has been stated Bosnia has been the most successful - from a health standpoint - deployment that we've ever had," said General Blanck. "I'm fond of saying that I know more about the air, soil and water of Bosnia than I do about Fort Hood, Indiantown Gap or Quantico, Virginia. And, its true because we've really looked."

But the biggest advance to come so far, according to Blanck, is the medical Personal Information Carrier. Historically, medical record-keeping and documentation has always been a problem. The "PIC," which has already been prototype-tested, is a small, rugged tag-like device intended to store an individual's medical status and history. The tag will store medical documents, X-rays and vaccination records. It will be carried by service members and updated by medical personnel using portable computers whenever the service member is examined or treated. The tags will store up to 40,000 pages of medical records.

The tag will be only one aspect of a full electronic theater medical record system. The information will be transmitted to consolidated databases to ensure that medical information is not lost if the PIC is lost or damaged.

"We think this is an advance that will allow us to continue to provide quality healthcare," Blanck said, "but at the leading edge of technology that will really support the deployments of tomorrow."