Telemedicine has not only the potential, but has been demonstrated to save lives in a medically austere environment. Medical providers from the 35th Air Defense Artillery Brigade are prepared to provide essential routine and emergency medical care in South Korea's complex operational environment.
Ground transportation is highly restricted at Combined Task Force (CTF) Defender and MEDEVAC flight times are at the edge of Golden Hour radius for D-2 Battery, 2-1 Air Defense Artillery Battalion located at the remote site near Camp Carroll, South Korea.
Telemedicine is a videoconference platform for Medical Providers to communicate with Combat Medics and patients where no higher level of medical care exists. Whether it is routine care or in the event of heightened tensions, a prolonged field care environment, or if specialty care needs to provide guidance, having the ability to provide a stable form of communication is crucial for a Medical Provider.
Capt. Aaron P. Vanderburg from Chino Hills, California is the 2-1 ADA Physician Assistant. He has worked since May 2018 to establish telemedicine at the site. The unit has been providing continuous medical support to the site since it stood up in April 2017 and this program now enhances the medical services available at CTF-Defender.
"Telemedicine allows Medical Providers the ability to assess and guide medics in this austere environment," he said. "The process took several months to get fully operational. It required establishing the proper computer hardware, software, and network connections. Additionally, my platoon had to gain network access and be trained and proficient on all software platforms."
In the event of an injury or illness, a medic first evaluates the Soldier. Once it is determined that the Soldier has a health issue that cannot be stabilized or treated at their level, the Medic has the capability to perform a telemedicine consult with a Medical Provider for assistance.
"Telemedicine grants the Medical Provider both audio and visual data to assess the patient and guide the medic," he said. "After the assessment, the Medical Provider will develop a treatment plan for the Soldier. If necessary, the Medical Provider can assist in arranging transportation and medical assets at the next level of health care."
In a prolonged field care environment, Soldiers may have to monitor complex trauma patients for an extended period of time. Telemedicine helps bridge this gap by guiding Combat Medics through more advanced lifesaving interventions, patient monitoring, and data collection that will permit medical teams to better prepared to receive an injured or ill Soldier.
Capt. Vanderburg said that he has already been able to treat several Soldiers through Telemedicine. As the process becomes more polished, they will be able to set up daily medical appointments through Telemedicine.
The unit is actively increasing Telemedicine capabilities at CTF Defender. Currently, they are working with 65th MED to establish Telebehavioral health capabilities on site. This will provide Soldiers at CTF-Defender the ability to seek routine and immediate care. Additionally, we are in the process of establishing an additional private setting standing up an office (connex container) on site.
"Currently, the system is fully operational. We expect challenges as we further develop Telemedicine capabilities at CTF Defender," he said. "Additionally, maintaining the Soldier training and familiarity with the process of Telemedicine as Soldiers join and leave the Guardian Battalion will be a challenge for us. Despite this, my team welcomes any adversity that the future holds for us."
The 2-1 ADA's mission is unique where there is highly limited or no U.S. Military medical assets available. Vanderburg said the lessons learned from establishing Telehealth at CTF Defender can be applied to other locations in the future.