New technology helps recovering Soldiers
By Jennifer Downing
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Jan. 5, 2006) - The Army has implemented a pilot program to provide a way for wounded Soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center to stay connected with loved ones.
The "Thin Client" system, first introduced in 2005, was created by Information Technology Systems for the purposes of e-learning, video communications and entertainment.
Improving patient life
"We went to families, Soldiers and administrators to come up with a product that would best suit the wounded Soldiers," said Hari Bezwada, a program manager for ITS.
Lt. Gen. Steven W. Boutelle, the Army chief information officer, worked with ITS to create a product for long term Soldiers, who are recovering for several months or more at Walter Reed's Mologne House.
"Those Soldiers had become isolated by not being able to connect with the rest of the world and many - most or all of them - are Internet literate," said Boutelle.
Providing a future
After talking with the patients, Bezwada and Boutelle wanted to make it easier for Soldiers to save their work. Each patient has their own thumb drive so data can be saved without the information being viewed by others on the hard drive. They also wanted to provide patients with valuable resources that are available Army-wide and online training that patients could use to obtain certifications for follow-on jobs.
"I can keep in touch with the guys (in Iraq) still," said Sgt. Jeremy Austin, a Walter Reed patient and Kentucky National Guardsman. "I miss them terribly because they are like my family now and I can keep in touch with family and friends back home."
Austin is also using the technology to take online courses in air conditioning and heating with the hope of learning skills so he can open his own business.
"The best thing about online (education) is you can do it as fast as you want, when you want to do it and it's at your own pace."
During the first phase of the program, patients received a flat-screen monitor and common access card-enabled keyboard connected to a local area network which provides Internet, e-mail, application support and printing services. By the summer of 2005, all 329 rooms at Walter Reed were equipped with the technology.
After talking with patients at Walter Reed, Bezwada said the Soldiers wanted the capability to talk to their comrades who are also in the hospital, but in different rooms. After the initiation of phase two, their wish will come true.
Phase two is scheduled to be implemented at the end of February and will include additional benefits including video teleconferencing, streaming video, voice over Internet protocol for on-demand occupational training and greater bandwidth.
Boutelle said he believes this technology will help the Soldiers at Walter Reed and should be used on a greater level.
"This is the ideal model that the PEO (program executive office) put in at Walter Reed," Boutelle said. "If you do it in other places in other hospitals around the world, this is the model you need to follow."