J Spec Oper Med. 2021 Summer;21(2):54-60.
BACKGROUND: While the US military has relied on the “Golden Hour” for casualty evacuation in Iraq and Afghanistan during most of the last two decades, Special Operations Forces (SOF) personnel have found themselves operating further outside of this established medical infrastructure. This has required prolonged casualty care beyond doctrinal timelines. Telemedicine is increasingly used by medical personnel to bridge this gap, augmenting the local staff with the expertise of a distant consultant. This pilot study was launched to establish a baseline of current SOF telemedical capabilities.
METHODS: This is a cross-sectional study of a 292 Department of Defense (DoD) SOF medical personnel via an online questionnaire during the period of October 2018-May 2019.
RESULTS: Approximately 16.1% of the 292 respondents stated they received telemedicine equipment, 51.1% of respondents who received telemedicine equipment reported also receiving training on their equipment. Overall, 40.6% of respondents were “actively looking to add telemedicine to their practice,” with prolonged field care as the primary intended use. Ideal characteristics of telemedicine equipment were described as a device weighing 6 lb or less, with real-time video and ultrasound transmission capabilities.
DISCUSSION: The data demonstrated a gap between provider demand for telemedicine capabilities and their comfort to employ these capabilities downrange.
CONCLUSIONS: This study suggests a need to increase the self-reported telemedicine competency of deployed local providers. Authors believe that this is best accomplished through incorporation of early integration of teleconsulting systems into mission rehearsals and unit exercises. Further study should be considered to investigate the efficacy of ongoing acquisition and training programs, along with how telemedicine is being incorporated in the unit during the predeployment training period.