The Armed Forces have been longtime pioneers of telemedicine, utilizing advanced technology and medical techniques to provide care to service members overseas. The Military Health System has created several initiatives to integrate more telehealth services into their medical facilities in the states, one of which a 6-month program centered on a military hospital in Kentucky.
Master Sgt. Jason Alexander, who manages Clinical Operations for the Army’s Regional Health Command, noted that many patients were coming to Blanchfield Army Community Hospital (BACH) not because they felt they had a serious illness, but due to the fact that they did not have after-hours access to their primary care doctor. The new pilot screens and identifies patients at BACH that fit into the non-urgent category, and directs them to a secure area where they can have a video consultation with a primary care physician at Eisenhower Army Medical Center (EAMC), which is located about 445 miles away. The goal is to decrease wait times and instances of patients not being seen, while improving the overall patient experience and connection with the right type of doctor.
The amount of time that specialists spend on patients who would be better suited for a primary care visit contributes to increased wait times for all patients, including those who really do need urgent care treatment. Frustrated patients will also leave the ER in these instances, which can have dire consequences depending on the severity of their illness.
“If you look at it from a regional health perspective, telehealth provides us the opportunity to leverage other resources and other facilities to create what we call an integrated delivery system."- Master Sgt. Jason Alexander
The EAMC Telehealth Center is located in Fort Gorton, but the location is also home to the Army’s main communication hub and center for electronic warfare- the Army Cyber Center of Excellence. Sharing the location puts the pilot program in a position where any technical or information technology related problems can be quickly resolved. The proximity is beneficial as the technology used with the HIPPA and PII compliant systems to conduct patient exams is highly complex. Depending on the illness, devices are used to take high definition images of the symptomatic areas that are then uploaded, reviewed, and stored in the patient’s medical record.
In 2014 Army Virtual Health services spanned across 18 time zones in over 30 countries, providing, “clinical services across the largest geographic area of any VH system, civilian or military.” Army telehealth efforts continue to break down geographical boundaries in providing patient care, with the completion of 33,000 patient interactions in 2014 alone.
The benefit of this integrated health care system is that the near real-time images foster interaction between the patient and doctor, and the transmission of patient data back to their primary care doctor brings the cycle full circle.