Amateurs talk strategy. Professionals talk logistics!

The crew of the Air Ambulance Victoria helicopter Helimed 1 check the country road for vehicles as they hover just above the ground during lift-off.

Anyone over the age of 40 will be familiar with the T.V. series MASH and the fact it was based on true stories. What may be less familiar is the truth behind those stories and how the MASH units actually came about.

The Mobile Army Surgical Hospital unit was conceived by Michael E. DeBakey and other surgical consultants as a response to a single central problem – how do we maximise the experience and fighting effectiveness of the troops? Now a non-logistics mindset would be looking at issues like training, weapons, and strategy but DeBakey saw things differently. As General Omar Bradley famously said: “Amateurs talk strategy. Professionals talk logistics.”

DeBakey’s solution was about ensuring more of the wounded troops survived their injuries and were therefore able to take advantage of their combat experience by not only living, but also returning to combat. His idea turned the traditional thinking behind the use of portable surgical hospitals, field hospitals, and general hospitals on its head. MASH’s were designed to get experienced medical personnel closer to the front so that the wounded could be treated sooner and with greater success. Casualties were first treated at the point of injury through buddy aid, then routed through Battalion Aid Stations for emergency stabilising surgery, and finally routed to the MASH for the most extensive treatment. It was so successful that, in the Korean War, seriously wounded soldiers who made it to MASH units alive had a 97% chance of survival. Those are the kinds of statistics that win wars.

What DeBakey and his colleagues saw, that no one else did, was that the real problem here was a logistical one – how do we get our wounded treated better and faster so that their chances of survival increase. Solving that problem required a logistical solution that could put the medical personnel who could treat the wounded closer to them. The existing logistics simply weren’t doing that.

Ambulance Victoria in association with KPMG hosted a kind of logistics hackathon designed to pick up on DeBakey’s thinking and deliver a way for ambulance services to be more effective. As Mick Stephenson, Executive Director of Emergency Operations at Ambulance Victoria said, “30 seconds, or 30 minutes, is a whole lot of brain cells or a whole lot of heart muscle so, to a patient, any time we can save in the improvement of the service we offer is of immense importance.”

The effort brought together 17 teams from 12 countries and gave them 96 hours and 2.5 years of data to solve two challenges:

  1. Predicting short term demand per geographic area, and;
  2. What is the best hospital to send a patient to?

Between them, they came up with 17 different solutions. The winners of the hackathon were Team UK who created a tool to determine the best hospital for a patient that spanned across hospital congestion and performance, the clinical needs of the patient, travel time to the hospital and historical decision making. But all 18 solutions are now being trialled and further developed for use right around the world.

This is what a logistics mindset is all about. How can we find ways to shave 30 seconds or 30 minutes? How do we change traditional service delivery to better reflect the true needs of our customers? How do we turn all of our thinking on its head and come up with a better way of moving products, services, hearts and minds?



One thought on “Amateurs talk strategy. Professionals talk logistics!

  1. Really interesting background to the MASH units. The hackathon seems to have been a great success. congratulations to the team.

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