One of the most important movements to improve the quality of health care in America is the push to expand the use of electronic medical records. This will not only improve efficiency, it can dramatically reduce the number of medical errors. There are few venues where access to electronic medical records can make a bigger difference than in our military, where speed and accuracy can be critical to medical care. Orlando Illi’s Medical Communications for Combat Casualty Care team, also known as MC4, has led a successful effort to help medical units digitally capture service members’ medical records on the battlefield. As a result, health care providers are making better-informed decisions, and soldiers are receiving improved care.
Until Illi’s team and systems took charge in 2003, military medical personnel were still using paper charts to record patient data. This information rarely followed patients, thus depriving service members with their medical information needed to receive continued treatments, to avoid misdiagnoses and, sometimes, to receive benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs. Likewise, commanders were unable to assess their medical assets across Southwest Asia and plot medical trends in the war zone.
From 2003 to 2008, MC4 installed systems to make digital records available at all combat-support hospitals and battalion aid stations (approximately 200) throughout Southwest Asia, Europe and South Korea. It also expanded its user base to include the U.S. Air Force and Army Special Forces units. The MC4 team successfully trained more than 26,000 medical professionals and deployed more than 24,000 integrated handhelds and laptops into the field to make this expansion possible.
In the end, more than 5 million electronic medical records have been transferred and stored in a central repository and are now easily accessible to medical providers both at home and on the front lines.
The success of the Medical Communication for Combat Casualty Care was not just premised on the technical expertise of Illi’s team, but on its people skills. MC4 established a system that is now being fully embracing by its users. But to do so, MC4 had to help providers rethink the way they did business.
Persuading people to accept technology is challenging. To do so in a chaotic environment, such as emergency medical care in a warzone, takes more than a training program–it requires a robust support initiative.
Since its launch, MC4 has tripled its support efforts. It has embedded team members in hospitals and clinics alongside users to ensure improved use of the system, and Orlando Illi has spent significant time in the field himself, including Iraq. Thanks to this support, units in Iraq, Kuwait and Afghanistan developed standardized processes to document patient care and access records, resulting in improved patient treatment.
Orlando Illi has dedicated himself to this effort because it’s the right thing to do, but also because it’s personal. When he served in the Army in the 1970s, he was injured and flown to a hospital for his back injuries. At the time, there was no consistent record keeping, and for years he had herniated discs in his back that were never treated. Today, Orland Illi is a 70 percent disabled veteran. He wants to make sure others avoid the same needless suffering he had to endure. Thanks to his work to make digital medical records more accessible to military personnel, many will.