Navy Medicine West (NMW), Naval Surface and Mine Warfighting Development Center (SMWDC), and the guided-missile destroyer USS Chung-Hoon (DDG-93) found the unique opportunity to test Medical VT-Sea, the use of video teleconference (VTC) to extend the reach of medical specialists to a warship at sea, Apr. 23.
Virtual health, the ability to connect a medical specialist with a patient regardless of distance via VTC, is a concept allowing the Navy to extend the scope of medical care outside of just Medical Treatment Facilities around the globe.
"The capability has tremendous potential benefit across the surface force," said Cmdr. Vic Sheldon, commanding officer of Chung-Hoon. "Not only in phase zero operations, but definitely as we increase the potential for combat operations."
A ship needs a secure onboard VTC capability with high bandwidth to allow access to a network of on-call shore-based medical specialists anywhere in the world. This allows a ship the ability to receive nearly the same medical attention as a large medical facility.
The test aboard Chung-Hoon was able to prove the concept in practice. A patient's consult for an orthopedic surgeon was placed into the Pacific Asynchronous TeleHealth (PATH) system by Senior Chief Hospital Corpsman Michael Subee, the independent duty corpsman aboard Chung-Hoon. PATH allows for secure transmission of patient information, accessing hundreds of global medical specialists and is based out of Tripler Army Medical Center in Hawaii. The consult was transferred to Naval Medical Center San Diego, where case management and PATH leaders entered the specialist consult for orthopedics. Cmdr. James Bailey, an orthopedic surgeon, examined the patient via Medical VT-Sea, allowing for a diagnosis and treatment plan.
"Being able to keep our warriors in the fight during conflict is the goal, and this capability will definitely increase the amount of Sailors we keep on the deckplates," said Subee. "There are so many applications for this concept. I can't wait to see how far this goes."
The benefits of VT-Sea include avoiding the time and cost required for a patient to be away from their primary shipboard duties to attend a medical appointment.
"Navy Medicine serves our military and their families in any environment to ensure a medically ready force," said Cmdr. David Paz, Chief Medical Informatics Officer at NMW. "Developing [Medical] VT-Sea' that is organic to a warship's daily battle rhythm is crucial to ensure we can truly provide medical care anytime and anywhere."
There are numerous factors to consider when attempting this protocol onboard a modern warship. Exploring VTC options that support operational commitments is essential. In addition to considering changes in emission control conditions, security is a key factor. Navy MTFs typically do not have secure connectivity, and thus are limited to non-secure VTC.
"Strong partnerships with line leadership, such as was demonstrated in this proof-of-concept with the Naval Surface and Mine Warfighting Development Center and USS Chung-Hoon, enables Navy Medicine to lean forward with medical innovations to maximize the health and readiness of our fleet," said Rear Adm. Paul D. Pearigen, NMW commander and former Naval Surface Forces Surgeon. "Leveraging technology to assist the forward-deployed independent duty corpsman with our highly trained medical experts ashore as they deliver care to Sailors who may be hundreds of miles away will change how we practice medicine in the futureand will keep Sailors and ships in the fight."
Though still in the early stages, Medical VT-Sea success aboard the Chung-Hoon opens up the possibility for a more medically ready force in the future.