technology experts have been instrumental in developing the
Army's Medical Communications for Combat Casualty Care
program, designed to eliminate the paper-based systems
widely used throughout the Army in favor of an automated
digitized framework for soldier care.
In past military engagements, deployed soldiers
received paper medical assessments to insert into their
records at a later time. But these medical cards would
often get damaged or lost in the field, leaving medical
personnel to rely on a soldier's memory of previous care.
The forms also did not provide a way to track medical
trends on the battlefield.
After the Persian Gulf war, "too many soldiers were
coming back with these strange symptoms and illnesses, and
there was no paper trail for what chemical agents they
might have been exposed to, what medics they saw in the
field or what care they received," said Karin Marr, who
manages the Lab's contract for the new system.
A 1999 law mandated that the Department of Defense
develop a medical tracking system for service members
deployed overseas that includes capturing the pre- and
post-deployment medical history and treatments received
during deployments. From that, Medical Communications for
Combat Casualty Care, known as MC4, was born.
MC4 contains medical software packages sent into
theater to support deployed medical forces. By working with
information technology organizations like APL, the Army's
MC4 personnel identify the needs and requirements for
software applications, creating a system that flows
seamlessly on a variety of hardware configurations.
MC4 comprises commercial and government off-the-shelf
hardware and software. Using MC4 laptop computers and
handhelds, medics in the field can pass patient information
to an interim theater database.
Since 2001, APL's role as MC4's systems engineer and
trusted agent has been to ensure the system is up to this
challenge, Marr said.
"For instance, if a soldier-medic comes across a new
immunization tracking software application that might be
helpful to him, we'll check it out," she said. "In fact,
before any software updates reach the field, we run them
through our systems evaluation lab. We develop evaluation
criteria, test plans and procedures and make
recommendations based on our test results."
MC4 personnel have come to rely on APL's expertise. In
2004, for instance, Beth Goodman, an APL test and
evaluation engineer, was asked to evaluate handheld devices
because the currently fielded units had become obsolete.
"She conducted an exhaustive study on several
different handheld devices," Marr said. "She came up with
the requirements based on the software being deployed and
the environmental constraints in a tactical situation. She
developed a test plan and eventually recommended the
handheld best suited for creating the electronic medical
record using the Battlefield Medical Information
System-Tactical software. These handhelds are being used
with great success today by medics in Kuwait and Iraq and
by FEMA personnel involved in the recovery effort in New
APL also serves as MC4's lead systems engineer for the
Army's Future Combat Systems program, known as FCS, a plan
to create a collection of armored vehicles, unmanned
aircraft and ground-based sensors and link them all in a
vast war-fighting network to give soldiers a better view of
"So when any issue arises that may concern MC4, we are
at the table representing that program and bring the
concerns back to MC4 staff," Marr said. "MC4 products,
which run on Microsoft operating systems, are to be
installed on FCS medical vehicles. But we recently learned
that FCS folks were creating products on a Linux
APL's Jorge Aviles brought that to the attention of
MC4 executives, and they are working to resolve that
situation. "That's part of what we do from a systems
engineering point of view; we raise red flags when
something is proposed that is just not going to work,"
At any given time, up to 12 APL staffers from the
Applied Information Sciences Department are working on MC4.
"They have been instrumental in providing
understandable answers to complex engineering questions to
a wide range of Army staff," said Lt. Col. Claude Hines
Jr., who until August was MC4's product manager. "I
couldn't have gotten a lot of this equipment to our medics
had it not been for Karin and her team. They are really an
integral part of the MC4 effort."