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NEWS | Aug. 1, 2018

Air Force tests en route wound care device at 59th Medical Wing

By Shireen Bedi Air Force Surgeon General Public Affairs

Air Force Medical Evaluation and Support Activity engineers and medics successfully tested a new multi-channel wound vacuum system, a device that would improve aeromedical evacuation crews’ capability to deliver life-saving en route wound care.

AFMESA routinely performs operational testing of medical devices. When delivering critical care in the air, devices have to work and there is no room for error.

Wound suction is vital to treating complex trauma wounds, often from bullets or blast fragments. Keeping suction on these wounds during flight promotes healing, helps prevent infection, and reduces swelling.

Currently, wounds are treated with a single-channel wound vacuum system that only treats one wound at a time. According to Lt. Col. Brandi Ritter, chief of AFMESA, this is a significant limitation since critical patients on AE flights often have multiple wounds. This forces crews to use several single-channel wound vacuum systems on one patient. In the cramped space of an aircraft, some crews had to stack devices on injured patients, making it difficult for medics to assess and treat them.

“Relying on several single-channel wound vacuum systems to treat one patient is not an effective way to deliver care in the back of an aircraft,” said Lt. Col. Deb Lehker, a reserve commander at the 752nd Medical Squadron who served as a critical care air transport team nurse. “Sometimes you could barely see the patient under all the equipment, but using several devices is critical to a patient’s survival.”

To address the limitations with the single-channel wound vacuum device, and ensure aeromedical evacuation crews are still equipped with effective wound-healing capabilities, a team from Air Combat Command and Air Mobility Command worked to develop the multi-channel negative pressure wound treatment system.

“This device would replace the capabilities of four single-channel devices into one multi-channel device,” said Lt. Col. Lewis Wilber, deputy chief of AMESA. “The multi-channel system makes it easier to transport and treat multiple wounds simultaneously without restricting access to the patient.

After a prototype was created, AFMESA’s team tested and evaluated the device, going beyond the manufacturer’s specifications to ensure it meets the rigors of use by AE medics operating aboard an aircraft.

“We wanted to ensure the device could effectively support the mission,” said Ritter. “For example, we looked to see if the device functioned under extreme temperatures and certain humidity levels. We also wanted to know if the device would still be operational if one of the channels stopped working.”

AFMESA testers recommended deployment of the new system on AE flights because it would be a significant improvement over the single-channel system. “The multi-channel wound vacuum system was able to withstand AFMESA’s rigorous testing process,” Ritter said. “More importantly, the device would improve medic’s abilities to deliver life-saving en route care.”