By Jonathan Woodson, MD, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs
Throughout every war, the Military Health System (www.health.mil) has made significant medical advancements to help protect our troops. Our innovations not only save the lives of our servicemembers but also impact the lives of civilians back home.
It is vital that the progress we make is carried over into mainstream medicine so that it also benefits the larger population. I am dedicated to continuing to move forward with the care we provide to our troops and to sharing our progress through our partnerships with civilian medical communities.
I can already see the many ways in which our most recent advances have helped civilians, from military medical personnel who use their trauma care training to help their communities back home to the effect that our investments in research and medical technology have had on our society at large.
Bringing Trauma Training Back Home
Military medical personnel are trained to provide the highest quality care under the most trying circumstances. They are able to quickly recognize and treat critical injuries on the battlefield using advanced technologies and procedures. They have made courageous sacrifices in their commitment to provide life-saving, world-class care. On the battlefield, they often make the difference between life and death.
Their impact goes far beyond the front lines, however. They bring their remarkable dedication back to their communities in inspiring ways. They are often the neighbors, friends and professionals in our communities who act quickly and heroically when the unexpected happens.
Never has the impact of military medical training on civilian life been more apparent than during the Boston Marathon bombing (www.health.mil/Reference-Center). Servicemembers participating in the marathon immediately reacted to the crisis to assist the injured. They used makeshift tourniquets to control bleeding, a procedure commonly used in combat. Recent advances in tourniquet technology led by the military are already being used by civilian emergency medical technicians, police and first responders.
Servicemembers also helped coordinate triage efforts during the bombing by ensuring that the seriously injured made it to hospitals within the “golden hour” — the window of time in which doctors have the greatest chance of preventing death. The past 13 years of combat have allowed us to improve our ability to quickly move wounded servicemembers out of harm’s way and provide care in under an hour. This system has led to the highest rate of survival from wounds in the history of warfare and undoubtedly came into play on that tragic day in Boston one year ago.
Military medicine also played a role in the treatment of then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and more than a dozen others in Tucson, Ariz., after they were shot at by a gunman in 2001 www.usuhs.mil/vpe/enews). The victims received emergency care from a local trauma surgeon who is a former Navy captain. He relied on his years of experience treating complex bullet wounds in combat to carry out life-saving procedures in the hours after the shooting.
Our youngest servicemembers are also making a huge difference in their communities with their recent military training (www.health.mil/Reference-Center). Last year, two military medical students from the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences used their training from a combat medical skills class to help three victims of a car accident in Gaithersburg, MD. The students witnessed the accident, then quickly assessed the situation and set up a triage area before paramedics arrived.
These are just a few examples of how our military medical education and training saves lives right here at home. If these incidents in Boston, Tucson and Gaithersburg are any indication, I believe we can translate our current unparalleled rates of survival during warfare into civilian medicine. Battlefield trauma care can inform the training of civilian emergency medical technicians and paramedics, so they are as prepared as possible to handle crisis situations here at home and improve their emergency response systems.
Using Battlefield Breakthroughs to Benefit Civilians
Military medicine’s impact on civilians doesn’t stop at our ability to deliver effective, high-quality trauma care anywhere, anytime. The battlefield also drives breakthroughs in medical technology and research that have far-reaching implications.
Our recent innovative strategies for saving limbs are already being incorporated into civilian practices, particularly in light of the Boston bombings. Additionally, our research aimed at helping servicemembers with lost limbs has resulted in more functional prosthetics that enhance life for all amputees. The latest prosthetic to come out of the military is an artificial arm and hand that is controlled by the brain (www.army.mil/article). I am confident that further advances in prosthetic technology will continue to find their way to the civilian world and help all those with lost limbs.
Our unrivaled investment in face transplant research (www.health.mil/Reference-Center) to help servicemembers with devastating combat injuries has actually benefited civilians the most thus far. As a result of our efforts with our civilian partners, seven face transplant surgeries have occurred in the United States, primarily on civilian patients. These surgeries are transforming modern medicine as we know it by opening the door for other medical advancements in immune-related diseases such as allergies, cancer and blood disorders. Countless people will be impacted by this critical work.
The military has also figured prominently in the development of new vaccines (www.health.mil/Reference-Center), which have helped protect generations of people. Our involvement has led to significant contributions to life-saving vaccines including for yellow fever, typhoid, pneumococcus, hepatitis A, adenovirus, influenza, measles, mumps and rubella, meningococcal disease, Japanese encephalitis, hepatitis B. malaria and HIV. We continue to make significant contributions in this field. We remain dedicated to continuing our long tradition of supporting research efforts to address new health threats that affect all of us.
Our research efforts have also led to the development of blood-clotting products, robotic exoskeletons, surgery directed by robots, spray-on skin to repair burns and new techniques to address traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder. These visionary advancements were born out of our duty to support our wounded warriors, yet have much broader implications for the health of all our citizens.
Preserving the Military and Civilian Medicine Connection
I am confident that the innovative wartime medical solutions we have developed to help our servicemembers will continue to be adopted by mainstream medicine. I look forward to seeing how military and civilian medicine will transform and grow in the coming years.
We plan to continue to make seminal contributions to military and civilian medicine. Our progress thus far, however, must be preserved. We must continue to collaborate closely with our civilian partners to ensure that our advancements last well beyond times of war.
With this in mind, we will continue to invest in partnerships with our civilian counterparts so that our advances can be shared with the population at large. Collaboration promises to ensure that everyone everywhere benefits from healthcare professionals who know how to apply the latest technology and treatments.
The Military Health System has succeeded in previously unimaginable ways. I want to make sure the remarkable things we have achieved are a reality for everyone in our nation. I hope we can all take comfort in the fact that as more and more of our military medical men and women come home, they will be returning with skills, experiences and qualities that will help us here during our gravest times of need.