Navy Medicine Goes Modular To Deliver Timely Combat Care
By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Oct. 31, 2003 The Navy today showcased a new, deployable medical system that's saving time - and service members' lives.
Navy lab technician Chief Petty Officer Justin R. Sambo displays the Expeditionary Medical Unit's new 15-pound blood analyzer, which can detect diseases such as hepatitis. The new analyzer weighs hundreds of pounds less than its predecessor. Photo by Gerry J. Gilmore
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
The Expeditionary Medical Unit, Navy surgeon Capt. Martin L. Snyder explained while inside an EMU on display in the Pentagon's courtyard, is a rapidly deployable field hospital that's unlike any of its predecessors.
The "task-oriented" EMU is part of "making Navy medicine more expeditionary," Snyder explained, by "getting our medical professionals farther forward, faster, to be able to deal with the combat casualties closer to the point of injury as we possibly can."
Snyder, a 17-year veteran who operated on wounded troops during the Gulf War and also deployed to northern Kuwait during Operation Iraqi Freedom, said the first EMU deployment was to Djibouti, Africa, in September. That unit, he noted, is still in operation.
The logistics of moving military hospitals to the field "had to change," Snyder asserted, noting some older field hospitals needed more than 30 acres of space and took as long as two weeks to set up.
Featuring lightweight, integral aluminum framing, the EMU's structure comes complete with heating and air-conditioning systems, Snyder said. The entire unit, he noted, can be erected on half an acre in about five hours. The modular EMU, Snyder said, can be configured and reconfigured to provide more or less space and additional or reduced amounts of medical care.
"It can be augmented to whatever size you need, and that's the beauty of it," he explained, noting that with older Navy combat field hospitals, "you got what you got."
Housed within the EMU's dun-colored walls of tenting are surgical facilities, a lab, X-ray equipment, a pharmacy, and more. Much of that gear, such as digital X-ray equipment and blood analyzers, is also becoming lighter and, hence, easier to transport and set up, he said.
In fact, lab technician Chief Petty Officer Justin R. Sambo noted that the EMU's new 15-pound blood analyzer, which can detect diseases such as hepatitis, weighs hundreds of pounds less than its predecessor.
Civilian contractor James Whittaker pointed out that new equipment eliminates the need for X-ray film and bulky, environmentally unfriendly photographic chemicals. And, he noted, the X-rays can be sent digitally to anywhere in the world.
That kind of progress, Navy Surgeon General Vice Adm. Michael L. Cowan pointed out, is representative of many advances military medicine has achieved over the past several years.
"I think that we've made huge leaps in several areas," Cowan asserted, noting that military medicine across DoD serves more than 8 million customers, including family members and retirees.
One such breakthrough, the admiral pointed out, is the "quick-clot" bandage that's been used in treating casualties during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
"Virtually all of the people who die of (combat) wounds die of blood loss," Cowan explained, noting "there are people alive today because we put that product in the field."
Another innovative medical project now being worked separately by the Army and the Navy, Cowan continued, involves the development of a dehydrated blood substitute that can be reconstituted with sterile water in the field. Pending successful human studies, Cowan said he expects this new blood product to become available within a few years.
"This," the admiral asserted, "will be the 'next big thing" in military medicine.
Prosecuting today's asymmetrical style of warfare - such as in Iraq where, U.S. forces first fought and defeated regular troops and are now confronting guerillas while providing reconstruction and humanitarian aid -- requires flexibility, not only on the part of combat troops, but also support elements, to include combat medical care.
Cowan noted that the modular, "Lego-block," EMU provides that kind of flexibility. The EMU, Snyder echoed, provides a transformational leap in combat medical care that can be tailored to fit the bill.
"If I go from high-intensity combat to, let's say, humanitarian aid later on, I can now say, 'OK, I need a pediatric unit,'" he concluded.