The closest many Americans come to connecting the wartime military with healthcare is following the weekly adventures of PTSD-overcoming, romance-seeking, trauma-healing, (sexy) soldier-surgeon Dr. Owen Hunt on Grey’s Anatomy. For once, though, pop culture isn’t completely blowing the story out of proportion—at least as far as service members bringing home the medical lessons of the battlefield.
This year, Memorial Day got me thinking about the idea of employing skills built out of necessity for a much greater good. Maybe it was memories of my grandfathers’ sane patriotism and civic pride as World War II veterans. Or the way a close friend served a full career in uniform, only to embark on a new career in the classroom.
Whatever the trigger, I realized that the accelerating effect of war and veterans’ willingness to offer service beyond the battlefield have really combined as a catalyst to creative thinking in healthcare.
Medicine for the masses
Let’s think about this for a hot second: In addition to the death tolls on all sides of conflict, injuries and illness need tending in vast numbers. For example, the 13-year war in Afghanistan generated about 38,000 wounded US, UK and Canadian troops and contractors.
The methods developed and improved over this conflict and the last century have been translated into civilian emergency services and operating rooms—tourniquets, triage and all. It strikes me that the more sophisticated the weaponry and battlefield medicine, the simpler the healer’s protocols, in some cases.
For example: “In trauma, time counts,” E. Reed Smith wrote in an article for the Journal of Emergency Medical Services late last year. He noted that some firefighters and law enforcement officers are now equipped with the small first-aid kits that are standard issue among forward-operating troops. These kits are packed with tools, including a commercial tourniquet that can be applied to yourself or others, and treated combat gauze that promotes blood clotting.
In high-threat, unsecured environments such as disasters or mass casualty events, these first responders shorten the time to treatment by delivering preliminary care before EMTs are even allowed on the scene. Their approach is adapted from the military’s CABC triage—catastrophic hemorrhage, airway, breathing, circulation—which improves outcomes in cases where penetrating or blast injuries cause massive and immediate loss of blood volume.
When the battle’s over
The service of military men and women certainly doesn’t end when they head home. Take, for example, one of our clients. Helius Medical Technologies is working on a fascinating noninvasive neuromodulation device and an associated rehabilitation therapy that may help the brain heal itself from the damage of traumatic brain injury (TBI).
Since TBI is among the most common injuries to modern service members, the company has been able to collaborate on research with the U.S. Army. Veterans willing to take part in clinical trials around TBI-caused balance and gait disorder have created the critical mass to gain meaningful data about this device—which may ultimately benefit civilians who have TBI from accidents and concussive injuries, instead of improvised explosive devices.
Getting totally creative
One adaptation that I find tremendously interesting: Military medical teams have picked up some moves from their aviation counterparts and are handing off that learning in the civilian world. In 2011, in fact, the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons was already advocating that civilian operating rooms (ORs) draw from the military model of crew resource management to improve outcomes and staff satisfaction.
This model helps mitigate the potentially high turnover in some operating room roles while allowing the rapid assembly of highly effective OR teams in a “plug and play” fashion. Specific roles, information and resources come together in a predictable and integrated way, with a shared sense of responsibility under clear authority. The model can be localized easily while retaining its focus on the patient, who benefits from team-wide communication and improved training, safety and efficiency.
All because this is how air crews Get. It. Done.
Service beyond the uniform
A century ago, in the poem “In Flanders Fields,” John McCrae wrote, “To you from failing hands we throw / The torch; be yours to hold it high.”
Real doctors and real patients in the real world have definitely caught that torch. The price paid for those advances is and always will be a dear one—yet the results are beyond measure. And if it takes a fictional doctor on a TV show to help people get the picture? Well, that’s alright by me.
JoAnn Gometz is a member of the Strategy team, where she focuses on content strategy, applying more than 15 years’ experience in content marketing, publishing and communications in a range of industries to help build clients’ award-winning digital programs.