FORT DETRICK, Md. -- When Chief Warrant Officer 2 Fernando Diaz’s unit had a medical maintenance problem, he knew just who to call.
Experts at the U.S. Army Medical Materiel Agency’s Medical Maintenance Operations Divisions, or MMODs, have been piloting a new “telemaintenance” program, where depot-level maintainers connect with field-level Soldiers through virtual channels to assist in troubleshooting issues and training to maintain complex medical devices.
The telemaintenance pilot program, which concludes Oct. 1, is testing systems currently available to communicate using video teleconferencing systems, like Microsoft A365 and Department of Defense Global Video Services.
Diaz, a member of the 51st Medical Logistics Company based at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, said the availability of telemaintenance could provide “that depot-level support right there at our desk, at our workbench.”
The 51st MLC provides medical maintenance support to all U.S. Forces Command units stationed at Fort Bragg. The unit has 21 medical maintainers, ranging from entry-level to experienced Soldiers.
The new line of support from USAMMA, a direct reporting unit of Army Medical Logistics Command, proved to be an invaluable new tool for the unit, especially with new technologies and medical devices being fielded to the force, Diaz said.
“We no longer have to guess or wonder if what I’m doing is right. I’m hearing it straight from the technicians at USAMMA,” he said. “They’re providing me with their knowledge and their experience, and I can get this all the way to the front lines.”
The telemaintenance program aims to boost readiness and ensure the medical needs of the warfighter can always be met, even in austere environments.
Through USAMMA’s three MMODs, subject-matter experts could help diagnose problems with devices and facilitate repair efforts, sometimes eliminating the time-consuming need to ship malfunctioning devices back to the depot for repairs.
“This is going to be a very valuable asset,” said Jorge Magana, director of USAMMA’s Medical Maintenance Management Directorate (M3D), which oversees the MMODs. “It’s a very value-added process that is going to benefit the warfighter.”
The concept was realized last year during the COVID-19 pandemic response effort when members of USAMMA’s Forward Repair Activity-Medical (FRA-M) team were unable to deploy and assist in troubleshooting issues with devices at a field hospital set up in New York.
Although still in the early stages of development, the telemaintenance program will offer another line of support for Soldiers when a traditional deployment by the FRA-M team is impractical or impossible. Additionally, a telemaintenance consultation could reduce the need to transport equipment back to the MMODs for service, saving time and increasing readiness.
The M3D team started building up the pilot program this past April, taking its first initial test work orders in June. Magana said the goal is to pair virtual communication channels with artificial intelligence and image recognition technology to help depot technicians “see” what a unit maintainer sees and quickly communicate next steps to remedy the problem.
Once approved by the Army and fully funded, the program will become operational and available to the force at large.
Isaac Newman, chief of USAMMA’s MMOD-Tracy in California, which specializes in maintenance and calibration for medical imaging equipment, said the technology could “revolutionize how we provide maintenance support in the future.”
“This technology will allow us to increase our capabilities, maximize uptime and save lives,” he said.
As the program matures through the years, telemaintenance will also allow Soldiers to directly connect with medical maintenance experts who can provide valuable training and skill development opportunities.
“I think it’s a great learning tool,” Diaz said. “What better way to learn than from the guys who do this every day.”