The Future of Battlefield Medicine

Camp Roberts, CA – In a field just north of Paso Robles, Major Chuck Brisbois looks down at a laptop computer. He's trying to see a video feed coming from a small unmanned plane flying above. The plane is gathering a picture of a mock crash scene at Camp Roberts where four troops are injured. "I'm not going to stand out here and look at a computer screen, alright? That's not why I'm here on the, we call it the X, the objective. Anybody on the objective has got to have their head up looking out for threats," said Brisbois. This is exactly the kind of feedback researchers from Naval Post Graduate School want. They're working on technology to help Major Brisbois save more lives.

Brisbois is a Combat Rescue Officer. By helicopter or convoy, he comes to the aid of injured troops in isolated areas. "We also jump out of airplanes to get to the scene, so really we advertise there's no where on earth we can't reach you if you need us," said Brisbois. Whether at this mock crash or in Iraq or Afghanistan, it's a job where every second counts. "The key problem we have today is getting information about the patient or survivor from his point of injury, where he is at on the ground, reliably back to the forces that are coming to pick him up, and from those forces, back to higher medical care or the people planning the mission," said Brisbois. That's the problem NPS researchers are trying to solve.

The project is called Battlefield Medical. It combines a future battle suit with a network that can connect an injured troop with doctors at a hospital potentially thousands of miles away. The battle suits would be embedded with technology that can track the troop's location, vital signs and even administer medicine to reduce shock. The information means a Combat Rescue Officer like Brisbois can start making decisions before arriving on the scene, like who needs the most help and who should be evacuated first. Doctor Alex Bordetsky is the lead researcher on the project. "So the casualty collection unit could communicate it with the hospital on remote, come up with a quick decision on how to temporarily bring the casualty to a better state, a better condition so that we can evacuate," said Dr. Bordetsky.

This mock crash is the first time the system is being tested with all the key players: a Combat Rescue Officer and doctors connected to the network at a hospital in Salinas. Through the network they are all looking at the same information as it comes in from the mock crash. And Dr. Bordetsky says that can save lives. "Saves lives in a big way, I hope, because it saves time and everything about that process is immediate assistance and evacuation of the right person."

It could still be about five years before this technology makes it on to the battlefield. There are also uses beyond the battlefield. CalFire has expressed interest and so have doctors who see potential for monitoring patients remotely.