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DCAM: Managing MEDLOG Systems on the Battlefield

“Tedious, yet important” is the mantra of medical logisticians manning medical facilities on the frontlines and at home. Tasked with ordering, maintaining, and reporting the status of class VIII (medical supplies), medical logisticians have the arduous task of ensuring commanders and medical professionals at all levels of healthcare always have on hand critical items, such as tourniquets, iodine, saline, and intravenous (IV) bags. Service members’ well-being weighs in the balance.

The monotonous task of counting stock on shelves helps to identify items that need reordering. For decades, replenishing those supplies meant filling out paper order forms and faxing or mailing them to suppliers. Those supply order forms often got lost en route. Forms that arrived at the supplier were often delayed by poor handwriting that caused misshipment of the requested supplies. Medical logisticians hoped and prayed the orders made it through. Commanders and clinicians relied on those orders to replenish their critical medical supplies.

The Department of Defense Medical Communications for Combat Casualty Care (MC4) system was fielded to Kuwait in 2003 to remove any question of whether or not orders would be received and filled. Today, more than 25,000 MC4 laptops, handheld devices, servers, and printers have been fielded to combat support hospitals, battalion aid stations, and medical detachments throughout Southwest Asia, proving that electronic recording is the way of today.

Secure Order System

In addition to streamlining the electronic medical recording mission at hand, MC4 laptops are used to access the Theater Army Medical Management Information System Customer Assistance Module (TCAM) application and digitally draft, submit, and process supply orders.

Although many users focused on just placing their orders, TCAM had additional features and benefits. However, TCAM had one inherent flaw: it transmitted supply orders via an unsecure file transfer protocol (FTP) connection, leaving units hesitant to use the system and encouraging them to revert to paper-based methods of the past.

In March 2007, MC4 personnel fielded an improved medical logistics (MEDLOG) system to replace TCAM, featuring the secure Defense Medical Logistics Standard Support Customer Assistance Module (DCAM) application. During the first 12 months after DCAM’s launch, more than 270,000 class VIII orders were submitted in Balad, Iraq, and Bagram, Afghanistan, by more than 560 users via MC4 systems.

Supply orders now traverse a secure connection on their way to supply houses in Qatar, Germany, and the United States. “DCAM uses a secure port that increases the security of passwords and order information,” said Major Frederick White of the 6th Medical Logistics Management Center. “The use of this secure port improves the overall security of information.”

Advantages of DCAM

Although the new application functions similarly to TCAM, users have found DCAM easier to use. As a result, more logisticians have joined the electronic MEDLOG movement on the battlefield. “From the user perspective, the major difference between using DCAM and TCAM is navigating through the program,” said Navy Lieutenant Darryl Green, serving with the 1st Medical Brigade. “The toolbar has been changed, making it much easier to use.”

From DCAM’s toolbar, medical logisticians can easily generate supply requests, create receipts, and monitor inventory levels. “Many of the customers in Afghanistan using DCAM have noticed a time savings since they are freed up from many of the day-to-day tasks they previously completed with paper or TCAM,” said Sergeant First Class David Awanda, assistant warehouse noncommissioned officer in charge for the 583d Medical Logistics Company in Afghanistan. “Physically counting inventory on a daily basis is no longer necessary.”

Order Tracking

While electronically ordering medical supplies has saved time and effort for logisticians, DCAM’s tracking function has provided peace of mind for medical commanders. “I have received feedback from some customers that this [tracking] feature is very useful and makes their lives so much better,” Awanda said. “It is important for them to know when medical supplies will arrive, as well having a real-time status of the order. In a short amount of time, they know exactly where the order is within the supply chain.”

Generating receipts when an order arrives closes the loop for that order. TCAM also had the ability to create receipts, but the function was not used fully. MEDLOG personnel now using DCAM realize the importance of completing this task because it adjusts the electronic inventory maintained by the system.

“This process is a tremendous asset as it helps the units forecast class VIII needs and future reorders,” Awanda said. “When the staff does not complete this step, many times there is a discrepancy with the physical inventory on the shelves and what the system thinks is ‘in stock.’ I’ve seen a number of examples where the system generates resupply orders for products that are fully stocked.”

Inventory Management

When setting up DCAM, users establish facility-specific supply levels to generate orders when supplies drop below a threshold. As the users issue supplies or update their on-hand balances, DCAM computes the quantities needed to replenish their supplies to the desired inventory level. On-hand inventories need to be counted periodically, but not daily as was required in the past.

Since the orders are automatically generated when items need to be reordered, the customer only needs to push a button to send the order on its way. “This feature of DCAM saves a lot of man-hours daily,” Awanda said. “The amount of time spent conducting a local inventory at a facility can vary from a couple of hours to the better part of one day, depending upon the inventory of the given facility. Since the process is automated, personnel better utilize their time by fulfilling other duties within the facility, instead of routinely counting supplies.”

Even with an automated inventory in place, medical logisticians still must conduct physical inventories, just not every day. These checks and balances remain a quality assurance measure. Having more accurate data easily available enables MEDLOG personnel to produce quick, accurate reports and further assure commanders and medical personnel that their supplies are managed effectively. “Monitoring and reporting inventories is much easier when units generate electronic reports through DCAM,” Awanda said. “This is another example of the time savings units realize by utilizing the tools available. The system shows the quantities on hand, so you can reorder whatever you need as opposed to reflecting different quantities between what’s listed as ‘on the shelf’ and the numbers in the system.”

Maintaining medical supplies is a critical responsibility for medical logisticians. It can mean the difference between life and death for the Soldiers. Using MC4 and DCAM is helping MEDLOG personnel accomplish their jobs more easily. It reduces how often they must take physical inventory and helps them identify what needs to be ordered, order it, and track it through the supply system. Using these systems to manage medical supplies saves the Army money by reducing the amount of time personnel must spend to accomplish the job and by reducing the amount of unneeded class VIII ordered because of inaccurate inventories.

Bill Snethen is the Army public affairs officer for MC4. He has a B.A. degree in communications from William Paterson University.