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IDF medical innovation: Battlefield surgery of the future

Imagine this: You are a soldier behind enemy lines. A firefight has broken out between your squad and terrorists in the Gaza Strip, and your best friend is hit by gunfire. The paramedic whips out his VR glasses and, with the help of a doctor in Beersheba’s Soroka-University Medical Center, he saves his life.

While that scenario might seem fantastical, the reality is that it might not be so far away for the Israel Defense Forces.Established less than a year ago, the IDF’s Medical Innovation Branch has been working on several projects to improve the innovative spirit of the military’s Medical Corps.

“Where is the future of combat medicine going?” Lt.-Col. Ariel Furer, chief medical innovation officer at the IDF Medical Corps, explained to The Jerusalem Post at his base in the center of the country. “We need to be faster, more agile. We have to work much faster, plan faster and treat faster. And make the relevant changes much faster.”

The Medical Corps is one of the largest health organizations in the country and faces unique challenges, providing it with opportunities not available elsewhere.

The main purpose of Furer’s unit is not only to create new and innovative medical technology, but to promote a spirit among troops to collaborate with key players such as health organizations, government agencies and academic institutions both in Israel and abroad.

Israel is known as the Start-Up Nation, and “the military is just one segment of Israel’s innovative community,” Furer said. “We firmly believe that the digital era will enable us to get closer to our patients and bring forward innovative ideas and solutions to the most challenging environments.”

Furer said he believes his unit will “revolutionize healthcare in the country” with the best and brightest caregivers in the country, and he doesn’t want the answers but the challenges. “Medical innovations are very hot right now. There’s a lot of buzz surrounding them,” Furer said.

One such project is to use virtual reality glasses like Microsoft’s HoloLens. It allows for paramedics treating wounded soldiers on the battlefield to get guided treatment from a doctor in a hospital who does not have to deal with all of the sounds of battle in the background.

According to Furer, a trial with the HoloLens glasses showed that paramedics had more self-confidence while providing treatment. But with a cost per unit of $3,500, “the technology is challenging,” Furer admitted.

In July, IDF troops took an opportunity to try another innovative technique to drastically reduce the time that a wounded patient’s data gets to the doctors in hospitals.

“We had a problem that, from the time when we get to injured people and begin to treat them, to the time that their information gets to the relevant authorities down the chain of treatment, it takes time. And it takes time for them to physically arrive,” Furer explained.

His unit then came up with the idea of placing a bar code on the injured individual and develop a smartphone application where the paramedic in the field can place all of the patient’s relevant medical information.

“You take a picture of the bar code, open the application, fill in the fields, and the moment you press send, all of the information is shared with the entire chain of treatment in real time,” he said.

Furer explained to the Post that he had paramedics attach the bar code to wounded Syrians who came to Israel for medical treatment as part of the IDF’s Operation Good Neighbor, and saw that they were able to transfer all relevant medical information to doctors at Nahariya’s Galilee Medical Center .

“We had a paramedic try the system on injured Syrians, and the doctors in Nahariya were able to plan ahead to receive the patients, an hour and a half before they arrived.”