(Bloomberg) — The aftermath of mass shootings such as the one in Orlando, Florida, can look like a war zone.
Now a panel of medical experts says the lessons the U.S. military has learned over the past 15 years by treating trauma on the battlefield in Afghanistan and Iraq can save tens of thousands of lives at home.
Traumatic injuries, from vehicle crashes to gunshot wounds, are the leading cause of death for Americans under 46, according to a new report published Friday by a committee from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, & Medicine. Those injuries have killed 2 million Americans since 2001. The panel estimates that as many as one in five trauma deaths could be prevented with better care, saving 30,000 lives a year.
The committee identified “a number of important and badly needed changes in trauma care” and called for the White House to lead the integration of military and civilian trauma-care systems. The goal is to make sure the best practices get applied consistently, both across the military and in civilian settings, and to help the medical system institutionalize the lessons from wartime medicine. Getting military medical staff to rotate regularly into civilian hospitals was a key recommendation in the report.
Bringing their experience to bear could improve the odds for people wounded daily in car crashes and falls. It may also prepare the medical system better for mass casualty events like last weekend’s massacre in Florida. Some of the surviving victims of the attack likely owe their lives to the fact that the nightclub targeted was blocks from a major trauma center. Survivors of last year’s Paris attacks and the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing likewise benefited because prepared emergency medical personnel, some with battlefield experience, were close by. One indicator of medical advances in the trauma arena was the precipitous drop, in these attacks, of injured who later died.
“The tragedy is that a lot of this likely could be helped by that hard-won knowledge gained on the battlefield,” said John B. Holcomb, a retired colonel and chairman of surgery at the University of Texas Health Science Center, who served on the committee. “No one knows where the next Orlando is going to happen.”