BACKPACK DOCTORS IN THE WILD – BREAKING NEW GROUND IN EXPEDITIONARY MEDICINE
October 22, 2019
The work of an expeditionary medicine team and dedicated rescue workers gripped the world’s attention when they extricated 12 Thai boys and their coach who were trapped deep underground in Tham Luang caves.
The epic rescue was made possible due to the skillful use of technology like drones, thermal cameras, geographical information systems (GIS), Internet of Things (IoT) sensors and 3D simulations.
Dr. Gregory Bledsoe in Honduras
While expedition medicine, also known as wilderness medicine, is by no means new, it has become much more mainstream in recent years. This is partly due to the ease of international travel, as well as the growing popularity of expeditions, holidaymakers’ desire for the trip of a lifetime, and a fascination for visiting locations that even a few years ago were almost unreachable.
“Technology is being routinely used now and hold great promise for use in both expeditions and expedition medicine, allowing explorers to go farther and faster than they normally would be able to go,” said Dr Gregory Bledsoe, CEO and founder of ExpedMed, a medical education company.
“I founded ExpedMed because I saw many physicians and nurses going into remote and extreme environments unprepared. They were excellent clinicians in their hospitals, but when in a remote area without their typical technology, they were lost,” explained Dr Bledsoe.
Dr. Gregory Bledsoe teaching a medical class in Nepal
Today, healthcare professionals can attend ExpedMed courses conducted by experts on a diverse range of topics – snake envenomations, high-altitude medicine, dive medicine, wilderness toxicology, disaster medicine, medical evacuation, and much more – to prepare to work on an expedition or for their own personal travels.
Dr Bledsoe believes that medical personnel on expeditions need to be ready to use technology designed for extreme or remote environments that span medical technology (MedTech) like diagnostic equipment to non-medical-related technology.
This includes communications and diagnostic technologies modified to be lightweight with a smaller form factor, such as satellite technology for mapping, drone technology for delivery and surveying, and ultrasound devices that fit in a pocket.
Technology That Makes a Difference
According to Dr Bledsoe, advances in technology can make a difference especially in physically extreme environments. For example, a rogue storm had killed eight climbers in the 1996 Mount Everest disaster.
Technological advances mean that expedition leaders today can access real-time weather and satellite data to help them determine more precisely the length of time they have before the weather worsens, providing them with valuable insights on when they should move their teams to shelter against a storm.
As the market for expeditions have opened up, there is a growing number of trips led by private organisers. These present opportunities for the startup community to test their technology in the field. For instance, drone and satellite technology have been tested on many archaeological expeditions to map and survey the site area.
“Startups and expeditions are a natural fit because both are energetically pushing the boundaries of what is known,” said Dr Bledsoe. “They are crucial in expedition medicine because sometimes traditional devices and procedures won’t work in remote or extreme environments. Diagnosis, communication, evacuation, and medical treatment are all areas where startups are helping expeditions and expedition medicine.”
Dr. Gregory Bledsoe and his father, Dr James Bledsoe in the North Pole
Dr Bledsoe himself has practiced expedition medicine in far-flung places like Nepal, Honduras, Sudan, Tanzania, Antarctica, and the North Pole. His experience extends to him being the personal physician to former US President Bill Clinton during Clinton’s tour of Africa in September 2002. He had also served in Uganda and Senegal on the advance team of President George W. Bush when the President visited the African continent in July of 2003.
Smarter healthcare with MedTech
Besides the use of technology on expeditions, Dr Bledsoe believes that MedTech, or medical technologies that diagnose, treat and improve human healthcare, will make a huge difference in healthcare.
Some of the promising MedTech areas include: proper storage and transfer of patient data, artificial intelligence and machine learning, telemedicine and remote medical care, bedside diagnostic testing and robotic surgery.
However, Dr Bledsoe noted that there are challenges to MedTech startups’ success. These include gaining access to clinical settings. “Healthcare is a highly regulated field and this may cause new technology to be adapted less quickly,” said Dr Bledsoe.
Also, it can be difficult at times for a technologist to think like a clinician and adapt the technology to use in a clinical setting. Hence, it is important to involve clinicians early in the development process to help streamline the technology for use in a clinical setting.
One setting that has helped to encourage startups is a robust innovation ecosystem, something that Dr Bledsoe has seen in Asia.
“I have been incredibly impressed by the depth and breadth of the talent in MedTech in Asia. There is a tremendous number of innovative companies as well as talented individuals helping to build an amazing MedTech ecosystem in the region. Every time I visit I am further amazed by all that is happening in Asia’s MedTech community.”
Ultimately, technology in both expeditions and for MedTech is extremely important. “This exploration pushes the limits of human knowledge and furthers all sorts of endeavours,” said Dr Bledsoe.
Hear more from Dr Bledsoe and other global thought leaders, view innovative solutions, and engage entrepreneurs, investors and innovators from around the world on the themes of FinTech and Deep Tech at Singapore FinTech Festival (SFF) and the Singapore Week of Innovation and TeCHnology (SWITCH). SFF x SWITCH will run from 11 to 13 November 2019 at the Singapore Expo, with island-wide innovation lab crawls and industry events happening from 14 to 15 November 2019.