US Army uses big data, mobile devices for injury prevention

By Jonah Comstock
Share

MC75A_LGAccording to United States Army Lt. Colonel Deydre Teyhen from Fort Detrick in Maryland, the Army has piloted a combination of mobile devices and big data to prevent musculoskeletal injuries to soldiers. (CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated Lt. Teyhen's title as private.)

Speaking at the American Telemedicine Association conference, which is taking place in Austin, Texas this week, Teyhen said that those injuries make up the majority of conditions among returning soldiers. For active personnel, musculoskeletal injuries resulted in about 2.4 million medical visits to military treatment facilities and $548 million in direct patient care costs. And 73 percent of VA disability claims include a musculoskeletal component, she said.

However, screening tests are already being used among professional athletes to determine who's most at risk for these injuries and what kind of training or therapy can reduce those risks. Technology and innovative program design enabled Fort Detrick to scale a similar screening process to be used in a military setting.

Rather than taking place during a clinic visit, units of soldiers devoted a single day of physical training to the screening process. Soldiers answered questions on netbooks and participated in administered field tests designed to have easily readable measures, so that they could be conducted by non-medical professionals. Administrators entered data from the field tests on Motorola MC75 handheld computers with barcode scanners to identify soldiers and catch data entry errors. Additionally, the information was uploaded to a central server.

The algorithm that calculated injury risk was a modified version of sports injury prevention company Move2Perform's technology. The system stratifies soldiers into one of four risk categories, with prescriptions for each one, including exercises for moderate-risk soldiers and clinical visits for high-risk soldiers. The report is then printed and given to patients, but also sent directly to their electronic health record. Finally, unit commanders also receive data on the percentage of their group that falls into each at-risk category. If they find that a substantial part of their unit has the same needs for injury prevention, they can incorporate those into training.

Follow-up studies are underway to see whether the platform really prevented injuries among soldiers, although Move2Perform's general software is already supported by clinical data. The Army has already determined from the data that the pilot saved time thanks to the introduction of mobile devices. Teyhen said she calculated that 2,829 man-hours were saved per brigade of 3,500 soldiers because of the handhelds.