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NEWS | July 27, 2017

Health research and innovation prepare Air Force Medicine for future conflicts

By Peter Holstein Air Force Surgeon General Office of Public Affairs

The Air Force Medical Service is tasked with ensuring full spectrum medical readiness for all members of the Air Force. To ensure medical Airmen are ready to deliver world-class care globally in future conflicts, the AFMS must stay on the leading edge of health research, innovation, technology, training, and operations.

Air Force medical research has made major contributions to how we care for our injured on the battlefield, fly them home from around the world, and treat them in fixed hospitals. Today, U.S. service members wounded in action have an unprecedented survival rate, facilitated by a culture of innovation that embraced appropriate risk to allow for new ideas and capabilities. This vision helped build an expeditionary medical force unparalleled by any other nation’s military.

“Our improved en route and upgraded expeditionary medicine capability is relatively new,” said Mr. Brian McCarty, panel chair for Medical Modernization in the AFMS. “It was not as finely tuned before the first Gulf War, so we created big parts of it during Desert Storm. Our ongoing research has provided critical improvements to refine this remarkable capability. We continue focusing on making our medical Airmen more agile and capable.”

These capabilities are designed to provide battlefield care and evacuation in the current conflict environment, but what works well today may not for the next conflict. New threats and adversaries are emerging around the world. To prepare for these anticipated challenges,  the Air Force continually searches out new technologies and new methods for delivering tomorrow’s lifesaving medical care.

“We may need to retool parts of the system we developed over the last 16 years of war. As we expect new mission taskings in future conflicts, we need to be ready for anything that is asked of us,” said McCarty. “When you add in challenges like Ebola, emerging diseases, bio-containment of infectious patients, and how to safely transport them, it forces us to review everything we do from the ground up.”

The AFMS will be called on to deliver the same high level of battlefield medicine and en route care in new mission settings.

“We will fill any gaps in our capabilities with technologies and adjust training and doctrine accordingly,” said McCarty. “We’re aligning for the next hypothetical conflict by exploring ways to stabilize critical patients during longer flights. We are examining how to deliver care in the field when time from injury to evacuation may be longer than we experience now. Those are scenarios that might occur with near-peer adversaries and threats we may face.”
“We are exploring new missions, and the possibility of facing war in new theaters,” said McCarty. “This will likely require a change in our tactics and processes for delivering battlefield and en route medical care. Our research and development teams must provide new and better solutions for blood products, pain control, and revolutionary telemedicine that places doctors wherever they are needed globally.”

As the AFMS updates its research focus, it will not do it alone. The Air Force enjoys extensive collaboration and partnerships with other military services, academic institutions, and private and public sector. This expertise augments its ability to find and transition new solutions. The AFMS maintains relationships with multiple strong industrial bases across key areas of the medical technology area. This is a crucial part of assuring the AFMS has access to newer, better and more capable medical systems.

Air Force research efforts will not be changing direction overnight. As long as U.S. service members are engaged in conflicts, medical Airmen will deploy to provide them medical care, and the AFMS will explore new research avenues to prepare for tomorrow’s conflict.