US Army Turns to Computer Software for Medic Training

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Technology already has pushed medical and emergency responder training well beyond the days of mock wounds and static mannequins.

New software designed for Army medical training allows personnel to see in real-time the effect of their treatments on the bodies of virtual patients and high-tech mannequins.

Combat Medic, developed for the service by Applied Research Associates, places trainees in a 3-D collaborative world where they learn to treat the three injuries most associated with preventable battlefield deaths -- hemorrhage, blocked airways and collapsed lungs.

Now, a new ARA software program funded in part by the Army intends to significantly advance that training via a downloadable “physiology engine” that allows medical personnel see how their actions affect every other aspect of their patient’s physiology.

And not only in a virtual world, but with high-tech mannequins, according to Jenn Carter, senior scientist and project manager for new program, called BioGears.

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“Let’s say a person is performing CPR on a mannequin,” Carter said. “That mannequin [is set up to] detect things like pressure and the speed of your hands. We can correlate that pressure and speed to the driver in our physiology engine … and as that person is treating the mannequin we can have a model saying this is what’s happening to blood pressure, this is what’s happening to the respiration rate, this is how the patient is responding to your actions.”

A great deal of military medical training is now conducted using sophisticated gaming systems and virtual reality, with the trainee personnel “in front of a laptop or with a mouse, keyboard or joystick, and interacting with virtual patients in the computer,” she said.

With the new software, not only will they be able to train to perform various procedures, but immediately see the affects actions and treatments have on the patient.

The Defense Medical Research Development Program put $7 million up for the new software, which not only may be downloaded into DoD’s existing virtual reality and mannequin training system, but by the broader public because it is open source.

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“All the models we are creating can be downloaded for free by anyone … to create immersive training,” Carter said. “What the [project team] is hoping is that this physiology engine becomes the standard for physiology simulations, so that anybody in the future who creates a medical training game for the military can take and use BioGears in that.”

“Physiology serves as the foundation for any medical simulation you have out there,” said Matthew Hackett, science and technology manager with the Army Research Laboratory. “[This software] allows anyone in the military, DoD-wide, to take this as a building block [for simulation] and not have to do that from scratch every single time.”

This means a cost savings to the military, since programs will not have to be rebuilt each time for different kinds of simulations, he said.

It’s also good from the industry standpoint because, as open source, “more people can get into the ballgame” to build simulation programs, he said.

--Bryant Jordan can be reached at bryant.jordan@military.com

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