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Lighter, leaner, lifesaving: AF tests wearable medical tech

  • Published
  • By Shireen Bedi
  • Air Force Surgeon General Public Affairs
Wearable medical technology is helping the Air Force bring advanced deployed medical capabilities further forward on the battlefield.

Researchers from the 711th Human Performance Wing at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, are advancing wearable medical technology to offer new types of care in deployed environments, and improving care downrange and during medical evacuations.

Wearable medical technology is designed to be small and lightweight to minimize additional burden on medical Airmen and the warfighter, whether they are on a remote battlefield or aboard an aircraft.

“Wearables provide greater accessibility,” said Dr. David Burch, a research biomedical engineer and the medical technology solutions team lead for the En Route Care Medical Technology Solutions Research Group, 711th HPW. “An aircraft has a very tight space and weight limit to maintain performance, and battlefield medics need to carry everything they use. Wearables provide accessibility to the human in a way that is better form, fit, and function.”

One wearable device that achieves that accessibility is a tissue oxygenation sensor, developed jointly with a private company. This small, soft, injectable sensor lets medics determine if a patient is able to be medically evacuated by assessing how well their blood transports oxygen to tissue.

“This sensor makes it easier to get clinical information at the point of injury and throughout the continuum of care,” said Dr. James Christensen, product line lead for Airman Sensing and Assessment, from the 711 HPW’s Airman Systems Directorate. “It improves capabilities while reducing weight, something that is important for both pararescuers and en route patient care.”

While the sensor is still being tested, Burch is confident that the tiny tissue oxygenation sensor will serve a vital readiness function.

“This technology is especially exciting since it addresses so many combatant command requirements,” said Burch. “We think it has a big potential to positively impact the patient throughout the continuum of care.”

Wearable medical technology not only benefits patients, but also allows for continuous monitoring of aircrews without adding any bulk or burden. This capability comes in the form of a compression undershirt that can perform several functions while seamlessly fitting under a flight suit.

Called PHYSIO, this undershirt was designed for aircrew and conducts in-flight monitoring of multiple vital signs. According to Christensen, the shirt also provides remote monitoring.

Both space-saving and life-saving, Air Force researchers see promising outcomes as wearable medical technology continues to advance. By making Air Force medics more agile and adding forward medical capability, wearable medical technology improves the readiness and lethality of U.S. Forces.

“Innovations like wearable medical technology opens up new modes of operation,” said Christensen. “Some of these capabilities just weren’t plausible in forward locations before. These advancements allow us to do more routine monitoring, do more preventative monitoring that otherwise wouldn’t have been possible without the light and lean nature of wearable technology.”