Virtual medical system beams Navy into 21st Century

May 30, 2000

Time is the enemy for military medical staff struggling to treat injured personnel. Each second spared enhances a person's chances of surviving. A new virtual medical system under development at the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory could save time and potentially lives by helping Navy medical corpsmen treat and transport injured sailors or marines more efficiently.

Pacific Northwest engineers designed this prototype system, called TacMedCS for Tactical Medical Coordination System, to expedite the process corpsmen use to assess injuries, administer treatment and transport patients. TacMedCS relies on radio-frequency technology, electronics and global-positioning systems to quickly store, record and transmit information on an injured person's medical condition.

At the heart of TacMedCS is a radio-frequency (RF) tag, encapsulated in rubber, that Pacific Northwest engineers built to be the same size as a metal dog tag. The RF tag is a futuristic medical chart -- an electronic record of the person's medical condition, blood type and allergies.

"We're applying a flexible, easy-to-use technology in a way that allows Navy corpsmen to provide better and faster treatment," said Ron Gilbert, Pacific Northwest engineer. "The faster a corpsman can treat one patient, the sooner he can reach the next injured person. Our goal is to make their job as simple as possible."

Pacific Northwest engineers collaborated with the Naval Aerospace Medical Research Laboratory, or NAMRL, of Pensacola, Fla., and Navy corpsmen who provided expertise on the demands of their jobs and how the medical system could be designed to help them do their jobs more efficiently.

Based on that input, Pacific Northwest engineers designed the RF dog tag to be read from up to four feet away in less than one second, which frees up more time for treating injuries.

TacMedCS also improves upon the paper tag system Navy corpsmen use to record treatment information. This tag, called a triage tag, can be an unreliable record if it gets torn or stained.

The RF tag developed by Pacific Northwest engineers consists of a tiny silicon chip and antenna and can store up to 110 characters of information. Using TacMedCS, corpsmen will carry electronic devices, called interrogators, that beam radio-frequency waves and "read" data recorded on the tag. The data is uploaded almost instantaneously into a program stored on a miniaturized hand-held computer.

A computer program automatically formats the sailor or marine's information onto a screen, where a corpsman simply points and clicks to indicate alertness, location and type of injury. Information on how the patient was treated can be programmed back into the RF dog tag. Using a global-positioning system, the corpsman also sends the location of the wounded sailor or marine to the tag and command center personnel, who can coordinate transport of multiple patients according to severity of wounds. The ability to expedite transport is important to corpsmen who are responsible for medical care of an entire unit.

Pacific Northwest engineers have tested the prototype TacMedCS to ensure the tag can be read through military clothing, including chemical and biological suits, Kevlar vests, body armor vests and field jackets. The Office of Naval Research funded development of TacMedCS with $100,000 for collaboration between NAMRL and Pacific Northwest.
Over the past decade, Pacific Northwest engineers have developed radio-frequency tags for inventory control of items ranging from designer clothing to military night vision goggles. Visit for more information on Pacific Northwest's electronic sensors group.
Business inquiries on this or other Pacific Northwest technologies should be directed to 888-375-PNNL or e-mail:

Pacific Northwest is one of DOE's nine multiprogram national laboratories and conducts research in the fields of environment, energy, health sciences and national security. Battelle, based in Columbus, Ohio, has operated Pacific Northwest for DOE since 1965.

DOE/Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

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