SOUTHWEST ASIA – An innovative system is being used to help Airmen remain mission ready and physically capable, allowing them to be more productive in their duties downrange.
With the help of a colleague, Capt. Eric Walter, 386th Expeditionary Medical Group physical therapy element chief, has developed a proactive approach to physical therapy at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia.
“We embed into a unit for a set number of weeks,” said Walter. “We bring out two tables and all our gear, treating patients as if they had come to the clinic.”
While Walter evaluates and re-evaluates, his only assistant, Staff Sgt. David Dillow, 386th EMDG PT technician, thoroughly executes the plan of care.
“We try to help patients with injuries obtained from the (area of responsibility),” said Dillow. “But we don’t turn people away who have had past injuries. We know past injuries can flare up and affect job-related duties.”
The program is intended to reach out and visit units performing heavy labor jobs with an inability to get to the medical clinic as well as frequent patients of the clinic.
This system is designed to positively impact as many people as possible in a short amount of time. There is much less time wasted going through the appointment process in the clinic. Another benefit is that it increases unit morale knowing that the PT team is thinking about their unit.
The teams’ overall goal is to see less people every week.
“We want to be a jumpstart and provide coaching for each patient and give them tools to become more fit-to-fight Airmen,” expressed Walter.
This is the first and only PT deployed embedded program, and it started in August 2017 with a pilot unit.
“On the first day we evaluated 21 patients and on the final day, after seven weeks of embedment, we only saw four with no returning patients,” said Walter. “We ask each person we see to follow-up with us the following week if things get better. We keep track of everything we did the week before to provide high quality care.”
Walter also stated that the success of the program so far has been enormous.
“We work around a mission,” said Senior Airman Calvin Lourens, 386th Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron passenger service specialist. “When they come down here it makes it easier for us. After they visit I feel refreshed and more comfort. I am able to take what they teach me and work with it.”
Lourens suffers from pain in his shoulder and was treated by Walter and given exercises to strengthen specific muscles by Dillow. This was his second visit with the PT team.
Walter has received feedback from the units and their commander’s highlighting the benefit of the program. He has tracked less units coming into the clinic for therapy after embedding into the unit. The plan going forward is to utilize the system for upcoming rotations to help ensure Airmen are mission ready.
“I thank God for the opportunity to serve the men and women who are so close to the mission,” said Walter. “It’s an honor to serve alongside Staff Sgt. Dillow, who I wouldn’t be able to do this without. Finally, it is a blessing to be able to help rehab and strengthen the world’s greatest Air Force.”