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Autumn 2017

One of the fascinating presentations at the 2017 ‘SARTISS’ international search and rescue conference in Romania was by Ronald Poropatich, of the Center for Military Medicine Research in the US.

He told the conference much of what he would describe “sounds like science fiction”, but actually demonstrated what is now possible in the world of tele-medicine, in particular the use Artificial Intelligence and drones.

He said we should not be scared by AI, it was merely “intelligent behaviour by machines”, to the extent that AI could now replicate human thought for such tasks as inserting an injection in a casualty.

He gave this basic explanation of how AI works – currently, we put data and a programme into a computer, and it gives us an outcome. With AI however, we give the machine the information and tell it what outcome we want, and the machine works out the programme.

The use of AI telemedicine is anticipated to grow by 400 per cent in the US he said, because it will cut costs in a country where there is a lack of affordable health care.

He described one experiment carried out by the Center, where they pitted doctors against AI machines. They input the data of 10,000 heart attack victims into the AI machines. They then gave the doctors and the AI machines a series of patients to examine, some of whom were displaying the possible symptoms of a heart attack. The doctors scored a 73 per cent success rate in their diagnosis – the AI machines scored 76 per cent.

The other big challenge for the military was medical evacuations – medi-vacs – in the current theatres of conflict where ground forces faced the “tyranny of distance”. For example he said, Special Operations forces in Somalia could be a thousand miles from the nearest medical centre.

Speed was also a necessity. In Afghanistan in 2015, US forces carried out 1,200 medi-vacs, where the average flight time was 15 minutes to the ‘MASH’ unit. Of these, 147 needed critical interventions during the flight, mainly ventilatory support.

They were looking at developments that could treat wounded soldiers in place, and also reduce the risk to helicopter and medical crews in combat zones.

They have already developed a medi-vac drone -as have the Israelis – with two large moveable rotas giving it vertical take-off capabilities, and a range of 400 km.

Under development at the moment is TRACIR – ‘Trauma Care in a Rucksack’. Utilising AI, they are producing Smart Clinical Tools and bio-sensors.

Basically, the rucksack folds out into a stretcher and the patient is then enveloped in the inflatable bio-sensors, inflatable torniquets, basic injections etc at the same time transmitting information back to the medical centre to help them prepare for the casualty.

The stretcher also has hooks so that a drone can lift it out of the battle area.

Ronald said obviously the “bad guys” will learn how to block signals, so the challenge was to make Smart Clinical Tools predictive, autonomous and be able to takeover operations.

  • This is an extract of a full feature in Resilience magazine, the quarterly journal of the EPS. Free subscription to the magazine is one of the benefits of joining the EPS – to join
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