Military's mobile system takes digital modalities into the field

March 4, 2002

Instead of moving wounded soldiers to imaging modalities, the U.S. military has devised a way to move state-of-the-art digital equipment directly to troops receiving care at temporary field hospitals. Mobile Digital Imaging System (MDIS) units are

Instead of moving wounded soldiers to imaging modalities, the U.S. military has devised a way to move state-of-the-art digital equipment directly to troops receiving care at temporary field hospitals.

Mobile Digital Imaging System (MDIS) units are expandable ISO (International Organization for Standardization) shelters designed at the U.S. Army Soldier Systems Center in Natick, MA. They contain digital imaging modalities, workstations, and other equipment necessary to acquire, view, and transmit electronic images.

The primary piece of equipment is the C-arm x-ray, a relatively lightweight, compact device that provides a 360° degree scan. A transport tie-down system with a head bracket was designed and installed for stabilization during transport. Along with the C-arm, a workstation offers two high-resolution monitors to view and store digital images.

The plan is for medics to use the shelter for procedures such as orthopedic and vascular surgery on wounded troops. Having imaging capability in the field is important in locating shrapnel wounds before surgeons begin critical procedures without which the injured could bleed to death before reaching permanent or semipermanent medical facilities.

Images from the modalities appear instantly on a monitor, and the shelter is wired to transmit the digital pictures via the Internet or private military communication channels to remote locations, such as stateside hospitals, to share with consulting radiologists.

"This is a new capability to bring to the field," said project engineer John Roche. "The Air Force wanted to bring high-tech equipment normally seen only in fixed medical facilities."

Prototype units were delivered in the past year to three bases:

?Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio
?Keesler Air Force Base in Mississippi
?Lackland Air Force Base in Texas


The MDIS units are currently positioned next to permanent medical facilities, where they serve as training stations for physicians and radiology technicians in preparation for eventual deployment, Roche said.

Used along with TEMPER tents in a field hospital, an MDIS unit can be set up by four people and be functional in less than one hour.

So far, the Air Force is the only MDIS customer, but Roche said the units have potential application in other military branches and government relief agencies. The Federal Emergency Management Agency, for instance, could benefit from MDIS during disaster relief efforts.

"If an earthquake hits, you can send for a whole system for medical assistance," he said.