News

Army Virtual Health: Meeting the needs of the Soldier today and tomorrow

By Mr. Ronald W Wolf (Army Medicine) October 5, 2017

WASHINGTON -- The future of military health care is likely to see significant changes in the next decade. The use of Virtual Health will help Army Medicine respond to the future operating environment, in which there may be a lack of air superiority, a wide range of health threats, and greater operational dispersion and transitions among small unit teams. Virtual Health will improve access to care for Soldiers and also provide physicians with easier access to specialists and patient health data.

Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Johnson will discuss what Army Medicine is doing to expand Virtual Health during a Warrior's Corner at the upcoming Association of the United States Army annual convention from Oct. 9 to 11.

In addition to supporting the evolving operating environment, The National Defense Authorization Act mandates expansion of Virtual Health services across the military health system to improve access, facilitate care, improve outcomes, and reduce costs. In response to NDAA requirements, Army Medicine is already implementing comprehensive Virtual Health expansion in garrisons and developing Virtual Health in operational and deployed environments to enhance readiness.

One of the most innovative lessons learned over the past 14 years of conflict is the use of Virtual Health. Building on over 20 years of experience, Army Virtual Health currently offers clinical services across 18 time zones, in more than 30 countries and territories, and in over 30 clinical specialties across all regions and in deployed environments.

Certain specialties, such as radiology and dermatology, have been using asynchronous technologies to send and receive digital images to specialists with great success for two decades. Virtual Health extends clinical expertise across all time zones to provide vital medical capability where it is needed at the right time and right place.

In operational settings, Virtual Health provides a lifeline to advanced medical capabilities for first responders, offering prolonged field care when immediate medical evacuation is not possible. Virtual Health can be used to support Soldiers across all roles of care, within medical battlefield operating systems, across unified land operations, and within all phases of military operations. Virtual Health enhances access to care, quality, readiness, and safety.

Army Medicine has already partnered across time-zones and provided on-demand subspecialty consultation (for example, general surgery, orthopedic surgery, and critical care) in support of deployed Special Operations Forces. This capability demonstrates Army Medicine's potential to leverage its resources in support of deployed forces in the most austere locations.

Army Medicine is establishing the DOD's first Virtual Medical Center, known as Virtual MEDCEN, with clinicians and staff that specialize in delivering health care remotely to patients wherever they are in the world, in both garrison and deployed settings, across all roles of care.

The Surgeon General of the Army, Lt. Gen. Nadja West, has already directed that the Virtual MEDCEN be established at Brooke Army Medical Center with Initial Operating Capability anticipated in January of 2018. The Virtual MEDCEN will serve as the "air traffic control" to schedule and coordinate virtual visits across the Virtual Health enterprise, connecting providers with patients in remote locations. The Virtual MEDCEN will use providers within BAMC and provider capacity from other locations to provide virtual care.

In garrison environments, Army Medicine has been conducting pilot studies to provide lessons learned that can be used in expansion efforts across the enterprise; for example, in July 2017, the Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army Medical Command approved a Regional Health Command-Europe virtual visits pilot study that will incorporate six specialties to administer Virtual Health encounters to the patient's home.

Overall, Regional Health Commands are engaged in more than 50 pilots and programs to expand the use of Virtual Health for our beneficiaries. Additionally, Army Medicine is rolling out Virtual Health cart technologies across the enterprise, enabling providers to diagnose and treat patients across distance using electronic peripherals transmitting real-time vital signs and images. Dedicated Virtual Health nurses will be hired as part of the program.

The potential for Virtual Health is extremely high. Army Medicine is implementing state-of-the-art innovations and sharing lessons learned with civilian leaders, the other services, and the Department of Veterans' Affairs. With its partners across the Military Health System, Army Virtual Health is supporting the establishment of enterprise solutions to support all services.

Military Health System initiatives planned for FY18 include expansion of an enterprise virtual video visits capability (interactive audio and video involving a primary or specialty care provider and a patient in their home or other secure location); a global tele-consultations portal that enables specialists to support other providers anywhere in the world; and remote health monitoring pilots for patients with chronic conditions.

Overall, Army Medicine is ensuring access to care for Soldiers, matching the right provider with an ill or injured Soldier anytime and anyplace in the world. By implementing Virtual Health innovations for deployed Soldiers in all environments and across the range of military operations, Army Medicine can save lives and support combat wounded at all key medical treatment and evacuation nodes on the modern battlefield. Army Medicine can also then bring those Virtual Health modalities back home to support our beneficiaries in garrison -- and eventually feed innovation for programs in the civilian sector.

With our current expansion, Army Medicine can continue its long tradition of being a source of cutting edge innovations in Virtual Health for the world.