How digital is helping Defence Medical Services re-imagine HM Armed Forces healthcare

Written by DMS on 3 February 2021 in Sponsored Article
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Defence Medical Services (DMS) is pursuing ground-breaking digital, data and technology transformation which will revolutionise Tri-Service healthcare provision to over 135,000 Armed Forces personnel.

Providing high quality healthcare support to HM Armed Forces, whenever and wherever it is required, presents a continuous challenge given the global mobility of military personnel.  HM Armed Forces’ needs are both diverse and numerous, ranging from serving infantry needing to consult urgently and virtually with their General Practitioners in the UK, to clinicians overseas performing surgery and medical procedures in often extremely challenging and austere environments, where access to fundamentals such as the internet cannot be taken for granted. Such challenges call for fresh thinking and different approaches to how healthcare support is provided to those who take pride in keeping our country safe from harm.

Defence Medical Services (DMS), entrusted with this responsibility by the Ministry of Defence (MoD), is rising to the challenge. DMS’ approach is both pioneering and pragmatic, focusing on those digital, data and technology innovations which have the potential to directly enhance patient care across the diverse services they deliver, including primary healthcare, dental care, rehabilitation, occupational medicine, community mental healthcare and specialist medical care. Exploiting the new capabilities afforded by digital technology and approaches is central to their approach. As Dr Peter Homa, Director General, DMS states, “key to success is working collaboratively with Defence Digital to fully exploit new MoD wide capabilities delivered by ‘Programme CORTISONE’. Of equal importance, however, is supporting frontline operations with tactical technology solutions to address unique and often urgent, rapidly unfolding clinical scenarios”.  

With the medical profession underpinned by a vast range of specialists, taking huge teams covering every discipline away on deployment would be impossible. But a combination of the latest communications and augmented reality tech means clinicians well behind the front line can now be involved in medical procedures.  As Lieutenant Colonel Oli Bartels, Project Leader of award winning ‘Project Lara’ notes, “the further forward in the battlefield you go, the more that individual medic may need support”. 

As in many sectors, an unexpected outcome from the current Covid-19 pandemic challenge has been the willingness of users to adopt and embrace new technology

The award-winning Project Lara has been looking at how cameras can potentially be mounted either on, or around, a surgeon to provide a first person view of the operation they are performing.  Their perspective can be beamed to colleagues with more experience of the procedure being carried out, who can offer their real time expertise.  Vital information, such as where to look, can even be beamed directly onto the lenses of special glasses worn by the surgeon to give them extra confidence.  Other innovations currently being trialled include a ‘just for MoD’ secure messaging system, particularly beneficial to the military orthopaedic specialists, who use it to rapidly transfer X-ray pictures to fellow professionals, and a system that remotely monitors and streams patients’ vital signs to experts.

As in many sectors, an unexpected outcome from the current Covid-19 pandemic challenge has been the willingness of users to adopt and embrace new technology which supports remote working. As such, previously considered fringe technologies, are increasingly occupying the centre-ground.

  The future scale and scope of DMS’ ambition knows no limits. ‘Programme CORTISONE will provide an essential new platform for exemplary patient care and clinical excellence, not only in providing a strong foundation for digital innovation, but also in enabling enhanced data capability, so that DMS can operate as an occupational health and patient care organisation in the information age.  With its tri-service mandate, interoperability, single patient view, self-service and easy access to secure, trusted data are shared goals.

DMS’ imminent appointment of a new Chief Digital Information Officer (supported by GatenbySanderson) will be a key step towards realising these ambitions.  The new CDIO will be required to bring both exceptional digital, data and technology leadership strength, alongside substantial experience of delivering a step change in capability in a clinical environment.  Operating at DMS ExCo level, this will be a highly collaborative and inclusive role that will involve working with diverse groups of colleagues throughout the MoD to effect positive change.

It is an exciting time to join, given the substantial investment in digital, data and technology change in the sector.  Sarah Winmill, CIO, Business Functions who joined the MoD in January 2019 is deeply enthusiastic about the opportunities available to DDaT leaders and is excited about working with a creative new CDIO who will help to respond to substantial sector appetite for innovation from day one.  New to the sector a year ago, Sarah is thriving in her role, describing it as a fascinating and welcoming environment in which she feels highly valued and enjoys working with some of the most intellectually capable people she has ever worked with. 

Sarah believes that the new CDIO will be highly influential, delivering substantial clinical impact through pushing the boundaries of technology to achieve what has previously seemed impossible; not only to support wellness, but also to enable the most challenging of military operations.  Sarah understands traditional pre-conceptions relating to the lack of diversity in a sector that she admits wouldn’t necessarily have appealed to her earlier in her career.  Her own personal experience however, has been an extremely inclusive and positive one.  She is proud to work with outstanding colleagues in an important sector in which there is a genuine opportunity to have an impact: “together we will be delivering an audacious programme of work…it’s an opportunity to do something extraordinary”.

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