Changing Air Force healthcare through innovation

AFMS Website Image Health Innovation Jul 2016 (AF Graphic)

AFMS Website Image Health Innovation Jul 2016 (AF Graphic)

FALLS CHURCH, Va. -- Innovation is a buzzword often associated with new technology platforms or successful sports teams, but in reality innovation can apply anywhere someone comes up with a new idea or way of doing something.

When it comes to health innovation and research, it’s all about finding new solutions to improve healthcare throughout the Air Force.

“There’s always a better way of doing something. Sometimes you have to break something down to rebuild it,” said Glenn Conway, Air Force Medical Service Innovations and Personalized Medicine program analyst. “It’s good we have such a diverse group of Airmen that everyone doesn’t think alike, and that in itself sparks innovation. It’s truly a game-changer if you can get to the heart of it.”

There are teams all over the country working to change the game for AFMS. The 711th Human Performance Wing at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, has a standing mission to improve human performance in the air, space, and cyberspace. They have teams dedicated to everything from studying brain injuries to how to cool water for Airmen deployed in hot environments.

The 59th Medical Wing at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, has teams doing research into all new ways to provide healthcare in the field – including the ability to perform surgical operations in the sky. Col. Mark Ervin, Chief of Operational Medicine for the 59th Medical Wing said, “The Air Force is, and should be, the first capability as a medical projection force. We’re able to put incredible amounts of care on the back of an airplane. We can convert that aircraft into a flying ICU as far as trauma surgery is concerned.”

This sort of research leads to all new technologies and developments that can radically change the Air Force for the better. With Total Exposure Health, an innovative strategy currently being developed by the Air Force, there’s a team of medical professionals and bioenvironmental engineers looking at ways to prevent illness from ever occurring in the first place by addressing how individuals respond to the different exposures in their environment.

“We can make a change now and it can be beneficial to anybody because, unless you have a disease, you have the opportunity to prevent it,” said Col. Kirk Phillips, Bioenvironmental Engineering Branch Chief for the Air Force Medical Service Agency. “So I get really excited when I think about what we can do for our families in ways we’ve never done it before.”

The potential products coming out of these Innovations teams vary from syringes that can safely inject foam into the body to stop blood loss to using virtual reality and satellites to assist emergency medical teams isolated in the field. There are departments researching everything from genetic profiles and nanotechnology to how to safely land a medical team on a hostile runway.

True innovations come in all sizes, too. While some might change how we do things in the future, others are happening right now. Military treatment facilities everywhere are making advancements that will save money, save lives and create a better Air Force.