By Ms. Ashley Patoka (Regional Health Command Europe)November 23, 2016
Editor's Note: This is the last in a three-part series on virtual health.
Virtual health helps healthcare providers connect to their patients when they are separated by distance. For providers within Regional Health Command Europe, this distance can be significant when caring for Soldiers stationed in remote parts of the world.
In support of operations around the globe, U.S. service members are stationed in places such as Poland, Norway, Africa, Turkey and more. And because of their location, many do not have access to a military treatment facility.
Instead, they utilize local, host nation doctors. However, with the use of virtual health, for routine or wellness appointments, Soldiers now have the option to see an American provider -- a benefit Mr. James White, Virtual Health Physician Assistant, believes Soldiers want.
White said from his experience, most people in the military system would rather see an American doctor if it is possible.
Lt. Col. Steven Bruner, a NATO Officer located in Norway, agreed with White saying virtual health makes things easier on the Soldier.
"You get to speak to an American doctor instead of having to get things transferred back in to the military system and translated," Bruner said.
In the Virtual Integrated Readiness and Remote (VIPERR) care clinic, located at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, Landstuhl, Germany, White uses virtual health to conduct Periodic Health Assessments for Soldiers stationed in remote locations. The PHA is a preventive screening tool designed to improve reporting and visibility of Individual Medical Readiness for all Soldiers.
"Our Soldiers need to be medically ready," White said. "Virtual health is a force multiplier."
The use of virtual health, when conducting a PHA, eliminates the need for Soldiers to leave their duty station for multiple days and travel to LRMC for a 20 -30 minute appointment, which for Sgt. First Class LaQuanda Harrison, who is stationed in Norway, is the biggest benefit.
"I think the biggest benefit [of virtual health] is convenience," Harrison said. "Because we are in a remote location to have to pick up and go TDY for a day would be a bit of a financial burden to the service and for the service member."
And even though Soldiers are receiving this care from afar, White said that doesn't change the quality of care.
"As a provider I know what I do. In a face-to-face I am looking for and asking the same questions as I am in the virtual setting," White said. "I look at the same numbers, and if I see something a little off I have them go get lab work done, just like I would [in a face-to-face visit]."
He went on to say, "If I say, because of your location, your PHA has to be put off, I am giving you a different quality of health care. I am saying your health care isn't as important. I believe everyone should get the same quality of care and providing high quality care means getting the care you need on time, regardless of location."
In addition to using the VIPRR clinic, the RHCE Virtual Health team is looking at expanding its capabilities for providing care to Soldiers in distant locations.
According to Steven Cain, RHCE Virtual Health Deputy and physician assistant, the team is in the process of deploying Telehealth in a bag (THIAB).
THIAB specifically would be utilized to provide care to rotational forces in eastern Europe.
"Rotational forces are not in a deployed status," Cain said, "therefore they do not have all of their medical assets with them."
Rotational forces often times only have doctor, physician assistant and a medic, limiting the type of care these Soldiers readily have available.
"There is interest in having the virtual health capability for these forces in order for them to reach back to Landstuhl [Regional Medical Center] for consultations, or maybe even to be able to do virtual health within their theater," Cain said.
The THIAB capability will include a computer, web-camera, and three-function exam camera -- otoscope, general exam camera, and a dermatology head. The kit will also have a Bluetooth stethoscope.
The RHCE team is looking at three potential ways for units to use THIAB: 1) intra-theater, or within the unit; 2) to reach back to LRMC, schedule consults, etc.; and 3) to reach back to their own garrison or to their own providers in order to keep continuity of care.
"The benefit of this will be that from these remote locations the medic, or doctor, or PA will be able to present patients to other providers to ensure they get the care they need," Cain said. "We have an ever-expanding group of people we need to care for. Virtual health provides us the capabilities to do so."
For more information on virtual health please talk with your health care provider or visit the virtual health home page located at http://rhce.amedd.army.mil/landstuhl/.