JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas -- Army Medicine bolstered its virtual health initiative by launching the Army Virtual Medical Center at Brooke Army Medical Center Jan. 4.
The kick-off ceremony featured demonstrations of cutting-edge virtual medical capabilities and a virtual ribbon cutting ceremony highlighting locations around the globe. The guest speaker for the event was Lt. Gen. Nadja West, The Surgeon General and commanding general, U.S. Army Medical Command.
BAMC Commanding General Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Johnson welcomed everyone to the ceremony and thanked West for choosing BAMC as the site for the Army Virtual MEDCEN.
"Our team has been working diligently to make this mission a success," the general said. "The team has traveled a long way in under a year. They have already achieved much and the plans they have for the future of Army virtual medicine are grounded in expanding operational support and garrison health delivery efficiency.
"BAMC is already making great strides in leveraging virtual technology to benefit patients in garrison and in remote locations," Johnson said.
"This is an amazing opportunity for BAMC to leverage state-of-the-art technology to support military medical facilities and patients around the world and for our medical professionals to benefit from a readiness standpoint, always being connected to a network of health professionals with a uniting mission and sense of purpose," Johnson said.
The general provided examples of how virtual health technology is being applied within the hospital, at the 232nd Medical Battalion to support Soldiers during morning sick call, and in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria.
"This is just the beginning of what is yet to come," Johnson said. "We are looking forward to building a virtual health capability here that will support operational forces anytime, anywhere in the world, bringing the full might of Army Medicine to the greatest point of need."
The commander thanked Army Lt. Col. Sean Hipp, Army Virtual Medical Center director, and his team for making the Virtual MEDCEN "another jewel in the BAMC crown."
The Surgeon General also highlighted the importance of virtual medicine on the battlefield and in garrison.
"Virtual health is the future of where we are going in our nation," West said. "To remain successful and to face future challenges we must be relentless … in our pursuit of innovation and our commitment to bring care closer to our patients while leveraging cutting-edge technology."
The Surgeon General described a scenario of how virtual medicine can be used to save Soldiers on the battlefield.
"This capability will be increasingly critical to ensure that Soldiers will survive war wounds and make it home," West said. "Our primary focus is care for our Soldiers, and also our Sailors, Airmen and Marines, because in this joint environment the bullets, injuries and illnesses know no boundaries or uniform color.
"We have to be mobile, we have to be fast … and we have to be ready to support them in a full range of military operations," she noted.
West said the concept of virtual health care is not new. "We have used virtual health and virtual technology to support healthcare since the 1990s," she said. "Although the virtual medical center is a relatively new concept it builds upon Army Medicine's previous 20 years of experience as another important step along its path."
The virtual MEDCEN at BAMC will serve as the organizational structure for medical providers to build virtual health services using new tools in garrison and in deployed settings across all roles of care. It will also be the test site for new capabilities and create a centralized program structure for the global mission of Army virtual health.
"The establishment of the virtual health center is just the beginning," West said. "The future of virtual health is going way beyond connecting healthcare providers to patients; it connects patients to machines and machines to other machines and eventually real-time medical condition assessments through remote monitoring."
During the event, a team of Mobile Medics demonstrated some of the equipment they use to complete a patient assessment and communicate with a health care provider via video conferencing.
"The mobile medic program leverages training with cutting-edge, virtual technology to meet our service members' medical needs worldwide all the while maintaining the medic's proficiency and state of readiness necessary for their success on the battlefield," said BAMC Command Sgt. Maj. Diamond Hough.
The event also featured artwork by Fort Sam Houston Elementary School students who displayed their concepts of virtual health.
West, a self-proclaimed Trekkie, compared some of the virtual health care innovations to those presented on Star Trek many years ago. "I think we are going to be there fairly soon," she said.
"I'm really excited about being part of the activities today, but I'm even more excited about the future of Army Medicine," West concluded.