Story and photo by Sgt. Laura Bonano
CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan — Service members face a long journey toward recovery after sustaining injuries on the battlefield. Once they return stateside, many challenges will continue to test them. Physical rehabilitation, medical treatment and readjusting to everyday life can be a struggle. Dealing with lost or time- delayed medical records should not be another hurdle to cross.
Steven Palmer, a twenty-one-year retired Sgt. 1st Class Army medic, led a team of civilian field service representatives to solve this problem when he first deployed to Camp Leatherneck, Afghanistan in 2009 as a civilian. Palmer said he jumped at the chance to head up the program because he would be able to work with service members again as the health information systems manager.
A native of Alliance, Ohio, Palmer said he joined the military right after high school with his cousin for the adventure. He said he enjoyed it so much he decided to stay in until retirement. Palmer retired out of Fort Bragg, N.C. and now works as a civilian contractor out of his home in Ohio, when he is not deployed.
Following a Congressional mandate, the team implemented the Theater Medical Information Program. The TMIP is an electronic medical system used to create a comprehensive overview of service members’ medical records and documents. In essence, the same records available to service members in a garrison environment can be viewed at Combined Aide Stations in Afghanistan.
Navy Capt. Jeffrey W. Timby, the Medical Director of Regional Command Southwest, said Palmer played a very important role in meeting the Congressional mandate for a theater-wide electronic medical record implementation. Palmer helped spread the TMIP across Helmand and Nimroz provinces.
Timby said, “This has proven to be an important link in tracking casualties with concussions, documenting care for those exposed but not concussed and supporting the full gamut of other disease non-battle injury report encounters out in our battle space.” In essence, the program tracks all injuries and illnesses affecting service members and the treatment they receive.
Palmer said he believes in the program and how it can help service members. He had his medical records lost during his service in the military and he said knowing what he went through, there was no question that the program was needed.
“I was in Berlin, Germany, and I was on a range where a soldier decided to end his life,” said Palmer. “I had to trek across a few miles of knee high snow, in the end I had frostbitten fingers and toes. This was documented in my records, which were soon lost, so it hurt in the end. I couldn’t claim this to the veterans hospital.”
Palmer said, “If a service member gets injured while deployed, the records will reflect that and they will be compensated when they return home,” said Palmer. Base medical units as well as veterans hospitals have access to the program stateside.
If a power outage occurs, Palmer said providers can use paper forms to document records and then the information technology department will aid the units in getting the system back up.
Palmer and his team hold a dual responsibility for training new units on the program and helping them with technical problems they may come across.
Previously, medical staff relied on paper forms to document patient information. This often led to a gap in time from the dates service members received care while deployed and the dates they returned home.
“Paperwork can only go so far, so fast,” said Palmer.
Palmer said the biggest challenge with implementing the program was training providers. He said they had always used paper forms and the adjustment was difficult, but once they embraced the computer system, the change was successful.
In 2011, it was estimated that 32,000 patient visits to medical centers using the program have been tracked for Operation Enduring Freedom. Palmer said he has doubled the number of units that have access to the vital system.
“Without his daily contribution to the fight, we would not be able to provide nor document the level of care evident in Regional Command Southwest,” said Timby.