FALLS CHURCH, Va. --
Air Force Surgeon General Lt. Gen. (Dr.) Mark Ediger addressed the Air Force Association during the association’s monthly breakfast event held at the Sheraton Hotel in Arlington, Va., June 7.
The general spoke about development of new medical support mission capabilities to meet the growing demands on the Air Force, and the efforts of Air Force Medicine to ensure mission success.
“Air Force Medicine is evolving to meet the needs of evolving requirements,” said Gen. Ediger.
Surgical and critical care teams
Air Force surgical and critical care teams have advanced to move quickly and relocate to meet the needs of military operations –wherever they may unfold. Critical care teams are highly mobile, and set up in the most opportune location to provide life-saving stabilization.
Just three weeks ago, during counterterrorism operations in North Africa, a French soldier incurred gunshot wounds to the chest. The local hospital was not equipped to handle trauma, said Gen. Ediger, so the soldier was transported to a nearby U.S. military medical capability. As he went into shock, the U.S. Air Force surgical team acted quickly to perform life-saving intraabdominal surgery. The team provided critical care to stabilize the soldier until he was aero-medically evacuated to a hospital in Western Europe.
With hospital capabilities further away than during previous conflicts, aeromedical teams are now required to provide additional care to accommodate longer durations of transport.
Expeditionary Medical Support
Deployable medical support offers field hospitals known as expeditionary medical support, or EMEDS.
“Surgical teams are married with critical care and aeromedical evacuation competencies to provide the right combination of medical capabilities to support the mission,” Gen. Ediger said. Within 24 hours, critical patients can be stabilized and moved to medical centers that meet western standards.
“We need to continue to advance that competency,” said Gen. Ediger. “Active research is continuously in progress to develop this capability.”
“This includes modernization of equipment. As technology evolves, it presents the opportunity to take new equipment that is used in critical care units in the U.S. and adapt it to the field environment.”
EMEDS offer lightweight capability with minimal airlift requirements. Larger capabilities take more time to become operational and require more resources to manage. “[As the Air Force] our contribution is to get there quickly and stabilize patients as required,” Gen. Ediger said.
Specialty medicine applied to the field
Specialty medicine is now an integral part of field medicine, Gen. Ediger said. Air Force cardiovascular specialists devised a technique to quickly stop hemorrhage, for use in the field. Numerous patients who were previously considered terminal have been saved by the technique. The Air Force continues to make strides in innovation, adapting state of the art medical techniques for application to life-saving techniques in the field.
In order to ensure medical teams are deploying with complete currency in skill, the Air Force has leveraged partnerships with Veterans Affairs hospitals, local trauma centers and other private hospitals, Gen. Ediger said. These medical centers present a complex patient population with wide ranging health issues. Access to complex patient cases helps military personnel maintain clinical currency while partner locations gain the expertise of military medical providers with significant trauma experience.
AF medical groups support installation commanders and readiness of Airmen
In the Air Force, commanders conduct operations from installations, even within the continental U.S. Operations include global mobility, intelligence fusion centers, cyber operations as well as nuclear deterrence. “Medical groups are supporting those commanders and play a critical role in ensuring the readiness of Airmen conducting those missions,” Gen. Ediger said.
Military treatment facilities
By providing their medical care –everything from primary care to specialty care and family advocacy –military treatment facilities provide commanders the ability to care for and support active duty families.
Pediatric and obstetrics services at military treatment facilities not only offer support for military families but also enhance deployable capabilities. During the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, many of the local patients treated included women and children. “This medical capability helps to build relationships,” said Gen. Ediger.
Military Health System
According to the general, the ability for medical groups to deploy with mission success comes through the Military Health System.
“The Military Health System is more tightly federated now than ever before,” Gen. Ediger said. “We are in tight collaboration with the Army and Navy. As we manage our performance, we are identifying areas for improving our efforts,” he said.
In order to keep medical teams ready, the general underscored the importance of continuing research, similar to the vascular technique which resulted in a new field capability that saved countless lives.
Collaboration between the services includes the Joint Trauma System, a registry which maintains data from every wounded service member in the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts. “The joint trauma registry has proven to be a helpful mechanism to identify ways to adjust treatment to improve outcomes,” Gen. Ediger said. Data from the registry and subsequent process improvements by military services have significantly changed the way trauma patients are managed in hospitals around the world.
According to Gen. Ediger, health system performance has benefited from the tri-service collaboration and there is solid evidence of progress. There is more interoperability with mobile surgical teams and the services jointly manage research to meet evolving requirements. “We continue to work together to meet the challenges of the mission moving forward,” said the general. “It is important to keep our capabilities aligned with the needs of the mission.”