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Research symposium provided forum for collaboration

Dr. Terry Rauch (center), acting deputy assistant secretary of Defense for Health Readiness Policy and Oversight, chats with fellow attendees of the Military Health System Research Symposium, just completed in Kissimmee, Florida. (Photo: Greg Pugh, U.S. Army Medical Materiel Agency) Dr. Terry Rauch (center), acting deputy assistant secretary of Defense for Health Readiness Policy and Oversight, chats with fellow attendees of the Military Health System Research Symposium, just completed in Kissimmee, Florida. (Photo: Greg Pugh, U.S. Army Medical Materiel Agency)

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At a table just outside a conference room sits a trauma doctor. Across the table is a psychologist. Meanwhile, a neuroscientist joins the conversation and talks about recent research done in his specialty. Their common ground: patients in the Military Health System who present with diverse symptoms, including brain injuries. As they talk, notes are scribbled on napkins and passed back and forth as they share information about patients who have gone through similar traumas and now face different issues. The recently completed Military Health System Research Symposium gave providers such as these the forum to find common areas in treatment of warfighters, retirees, and their families.

“It’s about building new scientific relationships, building interdisciplinary relationships,” said Dr. Terry Rauch, acting deputy assistant secretary of Defense for Health Readiness Policy and Oversight. “If you get various disciplines all around the table at the same time, focused on a common problem but looking at it in different ways, it produces remarkable opportunities.”

While some areas can be handled through virtual conference means, what’s learned at this meeting is incredibly valuable, said Rauch. “I really think to get the full benefit of a scientific conference, you got to have people go eyeball to eyeball and exchange information. It’s more personal than email.”

Dr. Kelley Brix, a physician and division chief with the Defense Health Agency’s Research and Development directorate, thrived on the interactions. “People can meet each other who are doing parallel and related work, sit down and say, ‘I’m grappling with a similar problem. What do you think about this?’” said Brix. “New, long-lasting collaborations come out of these conferences.”

Brix pointed to how injuries often need to be looked at in a whole-person way. This conference facilitates those conversations between the varied providers.

“The issue is providing the right care, for example, for someone who has a severe traumatic brain injury who, at the same time, has other multiple injuries and is hemorrhaging,” said Brix. “To treat the hemorrhage, there is a set of guidelines which can be contradictory to treating someone with a brain injury. This is the kind of multi-disciplinary conference where you can get people together from different medical disciplines and balance the needs of the patient.”

Rauch said in the future, he’d like to see even more presentations and conversations on what has been moved from the lab to the field for actual use.

“Those are the most challenging because, as scientists, sometimes we are challenged in taking our research effort and transitioning it with a commercial partner, which will do the manufacturing or prototyping or engineering of that device or drug or molecule, and then bring it back to us to put in our kits for service members to carry and use,” said Rauch. “One of the ultimate measures of how well we do is how well we translate findings into use.”

This year’s research symposium in Kissimmee, Florida, was the biggest so far, attracting attendees from military medicine, academia, and civilian health care practice from around the world. Rauch said he’s not surprised at how much it has grown.

“I see the momentum and enthusiasm that has been built into this conference,” said Rauch. “But I’m a scientist. I try to facilitate conversations. I run around the conference, grab people, and get on my cell phone and call somebody else and tell them, ‘Get down here now. I want you to talk to this person about the work you’re doing because they’re doing similar work, but approaching it differently.’ This is my element.”

And apparently for the thousands who attended, it was their element as well.

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