Lt. Col. Jennifer Huxel, chief of inpatient nursing, Irwin Army Community Hospital, stepped into the exam room at IACH Feb. 11 to see her allergy doctor. The only issue was Col. Kirk Waibel is assigned to Brook Army Medical Center, Joint Base San Antonio-Sam Houston, meaning he was not actually in the room with Huxel.

Irwin Army Community Hospital now offers virtual health care for limited specialty care appointments. The process is much like making a video chat call to family, with a nurse there to conduct the exam for the doctor.

"I felt very comfortable," Huxel said after her appointment. "I compare it to when I had a provider in the room and it's similar. He asked me a lot of questions, [the nurse] was able to do the physical piece for him. I felt very comfortable, secure in this. Initially, I was like, 'What's this going to entail. This is my first time ever doing it with a provider. You do it with family members, but I think it's great. I want to use it again."

Huxel, who was on leave at the time of the appointment, felt the need to follow through with her annual exam with the allergist that she tried the Virtual Health option and said she would recommend this to more patients.

"This is just like going to a normal appointment," she said. "I'm coming to the place where I get my care anyways. So, I already know where to park, where to go, what clinic."

The service allows patients the ease of continuing their care within the Military Health System and facilitates continuity of care when relocating to another installation where there might not be a specialist assigned.

Irwin Army Community Hospital offers the Virtual Health option in allergy, pediatric pulmonology, adult pulmonology and sleep medicine, said Melanie Rohe, virtual health registered nurse care coordinator, IACH. Dermatology is in the process of being applied into the system.

Not all providers are using this technology yet.

"I think I'm a little more on the forefront," Waibel said during the appointment. "Because, I [moved] from Germany and I have been doing this for five years over there. I'm very familiar with this type of appointment and kind of what needs to be put in place."

Rohe said she thinks the technology is great and with the specialties offered it will keep patients on Fort Riley and save them time from traveling elsewhere.

"It's very cutting edge," she said. "They can stay in contact with their primary cares as well. Easy connectability with the physician if they have questions, they just ask them directly. I think they get that answer quicker. I think it's just amazing keeping up with the civilian world as well, I know they are offering this out there as well."

Huxel said she was nervous at first, but that quickly vanished.

"We were able to make eye contact," she said. "I felt like the eye contact was more actual versus when the doctor is here (in the room) he might be turned charting. I thought it was very personable."

Waibel explained how the process would work with them talking about why Huxel was there -- much like other appointments. During the appointment when it was time to check Huxel's ears, nose and throat, Rohe hooked the otoscope to a webcam that provided a live feed to Waibel.

There, he was able to see everything as if he was looking through the otoscope in the room.
One main concern for Huxel when it came to her visit with the allergist was her continued care after her PCS to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, where there might not be an allergist on staff. She said care like this will allow her to maintain her prescriptions and care without having to go out into the network of care.

"I think the big thing with this, I'm not going to have a break in care," she said.