Internet of Things would speed care to wounded soldiers

The Defense Health Agency is developing clothing-embedded biosensors that will give medical teams a heads-up on the nature and extent of injuries.

Military researchers have been floating the idea of sensor-laden soldiers essentially being part of the Internet of Things, whether for better situational awareness or improved performance. But there’s another potential benefit: better medical care for those who are wounded.

The Defense Health Agency is looking to capitalize on both the Internet of Things (IoT) and improvements in health information technology to create an environment where doctors would know a soldier’s injury and its severity before the soldier arrives at a hospital or medical outpost. Biosensors and monitors worn comfortably inside clothing would wirelessly transmit data on the soldier’s condition, letting doctors and other medical personnel skip the triage step and get right to treating the wounds.

“We’re looking at being able to process and manage large amounts of data by using the Internet of Things,” Army Lt. Col. Mark Mellott, execution branch chief of the DHA’s Health Information Technology Innovation and Advanced Technology Development Division, said in a release. “IoT has the potential to change the dynamic of health care itself. It’s about how different devices are all connected with one another, on the battlefield and in garrison, and how we are able to better share information and make well-informed, data-driven decisions.”

Mellott’s team, for example, is developing self-powered biosensors worn inside clothing that track factors such as the wearer’s vital signs, activity and how much sleep they get, whether on a base or the battlefield. Another project is developing mobile applications that would send automated alters to medical staff about battlefield injuries. DHA’s Pacific Joint Information Technology Center is managing both projects.

The key is the IoT, in which sensors and other devices—anything from weather monitors to surveillance devices to smart refrigerators—can share information. For DHA, of course, the focus is on medical monitors, and it has the potential for a significant impact.

“The project is changing the dynamic of health care itself,” said Mellott, who also pointed out that biosensor information could be automatically linked to a soldier’s electronic health record. “If you as a physician know you’re getting the right information, you can then focus on improving the quality of care and perhaps enable patients to regain their health faster.”

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