U.S. Military Expands Telemedicine Use

The U.S. military is expanding its use of telemedicine to help diagnose and treat soldiers in the field, the AP/Miami Herald reports. The technology has served as a "force multiplier," connecting specialists who can't be deployed with patients on the battlefield, said Army Col. Ron Poropatich, a critical-care doctor at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., and the telemedicine consultant for the U.S. Army Surgeon General.

"We have a lot of good doctors in the theater, but we can't deploy every specialty," Poropatich said. He plans go to Iraq next month to install a system that will enable physicians to store digital medical records such as X-rays, echocardiograms and dermatology photos (Chachere, AP/Miami Herald, 5/10).

So far, telemedicine has proved "vital" in diagnosing soldiers in the Middle East with a parasitic skin disease that can cause organ damage if left untreated. Medics take digital photos of soldiers' infected skin and e-mail them to dermatologists in the United States. The dermatologists can quickly review the photos and issue a diagnosis and treatment recommendation, speeding medical care and preventing an expensive evacuation, the AP/Washington Post reports (Chachere, AP/Washington Post, 5/9).

However, telemedicine growth in Iraq "has been stymied by a lack of bandwidth to accommodate the modern tools," the AP/Miami Herald reports. Poropatich said a dedicated satellite is necessary to make full use of the technology. Medical images will be transmitted to military physicians in Europe when the bandwidth is available.

Poropatich also plans to use video conference telephones for psychiatric services and pathology services, with Walter Reed lab technicians reviewing slides online. Telemedicine could also be used to send pictures of soldiers' eyes for evaluation by Army ophthalmologists and optometrists. Currently, battlefield medics working on medical-evacuation vehicles in Iraq can text-message injury reports to field hospitals and doctors can reply with instant communications.

In Afghanistan, where Poropatich said telemedicine is "more advanced" because of greater bandwidth capabilities, a video camera over an operating table transmits images to surgeons at Walter Reed, where neurosurgeons guide operations. Afghanistan also has a dedicated, secure telephone line that medical personnel can use to contact colleagues around the world.

The Defense Department has spent $100 million on telemedicine in the past 10 years (AP/Miami Herald, 5/10).

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