From the battlefields of Ukraine to the quake-ravaged areas of central Morocco, field hospitals are a godsend for the affected population. Without an intact clinic or hospital, let alone a well-equipped one, these temporary medical facilities and their contingent of healthcare and medical staff are the only hope for scores of ill or injured.
That said, the last thing field hospital workers want to experience is being unable to treat patients due to a lack of capability. Wounds and broken limbs are far from the only things field hospitals have to deal with. In Morocco, a military field hospital had the correct idea to outfit it for mental health support, as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) was prevalent in the quake’s aftermath.
To better serve the needs of disaster victims and, by and large, people seeking quality healthcare, field hospitals have been busy expanding their capabilities. The next generation of field hospitals and field medical care may have the following technologies as standard:
Internet of Medical Things
During the initial outbreak of COVID-19 in Wuhan, China, the government deployed the Smart Field Hospital. This field hospital was augmented with robots and used an assortment of health devices linked to the staff’s monitoring systems. The robots served in support roles like bringing patients’ meals and disinfecting areas, freeing human staff for more crucial responsibilities.
Making this level of interconnectivity possible in field medical operations is a radical technology known as the Internet of Medical Things (IoMT). A subset of the more well-known Internet of Things, IoMT connects medical devices with healthcare workers’ monitoring apparatuses via the Internet. Essentially, it lets healthcare workers monitor patients’ conditions in real time.
IoMT is a game-changer due to its ability to minimize physical contact, especially in case of an outbreak. Robots can’t get tired or contract diseases, making them ideal for repetitive tasks and those requiring physical interaction.
Emergency Operations Center
As field hospitals are deployed in emergency scenarios, the need for them to maintain situational awareness can’t be stressed enough. As rescue teams continue to recover more injured survivors, healthcare workers have to make sure they have enough of everything they need.
Coordination of activities from logistics to resource management in a deployable field hospital is the primary responsibility of the emergency operations center (EOC). As the nerve center of field medical operations in an area, the EOC houses the leadership from the operations director to the leaders of each section (e.g., planning, logistics, management).
The EOC arguably has the highest concentration of technologies anywhere in a field hospital, as it’s tasked with making key decisions in field medical operations. According to the International Association of Emergency Managers, an EOC’s baseline capabilities should consist of:
- Live video feeds and communication equipment
- Real-time disaster monitoring and data analysis
- Geographic information systems (e.g., maps)
- Logistics and inventory tracking
- Access to various mediums (e.g., broadcast, social media)
- Electronic file-sharing systems
- Computers with a reliable internet connection
- Firewalls and other cybersecurity protocols
But above all else, the EOC must be able to make snap decisions based on the information the team has. Experts stress the importance of proactive decision-making over reactive, foreseeing and preparing for as many scenarios as possible.
Throughout its six-week operation, Israel’s Kohav Meir field hospital outside the city of Lviv in western Ukraine has achieved several milestones. It made headlines when the team helped give birth to a healthy baby through a Caesarian section.
More importantly, it was known for providing mental health relief through virtual reality (VR) goggles. Through these goggles, traumatized children would be shown pleasant sceneries to help regain their positive disposition. According to one report, the whole process only took seconds.
Modern medicine has been tapping into the potential of VR technology for a broad range of applications for years, not least of which being psychiatric. A study by the World Economic Forum even raised the potential of harnessing the metaverse to combat the mental health crisis, which was exacerbated by the recent pandemic.
Researchers discovered that the technology can be a delivery medium for cognitive behavioral therapy. By immersing patients in positive scenarios, some VR treatments registered a success rate of up to 90% among PTSD patients.
Unfortunately, the current literature on the efficacy of VR-based intervention is still unclear. Unlike the other technologies explained earlier, VR is a newcomer in modern medicine, let alone field medical operations. Nevertheless, the technology shows some promise, and it won’t be unusual if it sees action in future medical deployments.
Given these developments, the next generation of deployable field hospitals will have a higher tech stack than its predecessors. They’ll be better equipped to deal with a wider range of health problems, whether induced by a natural or manmade disaster. After all, when the local healthcare system has collapsed, field hospitals will be the only hope left for the ill and injured.