5 patriotic deployments of telemedicine

In honor of Memorial Day, this article shows how telemedicine is improving the lives of the soldiers and public officials charged with protecting us.

My dad was a U.S. Army veteran of both World War II and the Korean War, in which he lost much of his hearing. His retirement years in St. Cloud, Minnesota, included monthly visits to audiology specialists at the Veterans Health Administration (VA) hospital at Fort Snelling near Minneapolis—the nearest VA facility with an audiologist. Dad would wake up at 5:30 a.m., drive to the VA bus stop in St. Cloud, and ride two hours to his appointment. Once seen, he’d wait around the rest of the day for his 85-mile bus ride north. It was usually a 13-hour day.

Fortunately, technology has changed the world of medicine. Here are five examples of organizations that are helping our nation’s heroes and public officials access the high-quality care they deserve.

US Army/US Navy, Humacao, Puerto Rico
In September 2017, Hurricane Maria descended on Puerto Rico, becoming the worst natural disaster to ever hit the tiny island. The loss of electricity, the severe damage to homes and agriculture, the lack of clean drinking water and the shortage of supplies combined to create a health crisis of severe magnitude. A solution was needed to engage the help of medical providers around the world who couldn’t physically get to the island.

With relief slow to come, U.S. Army mobile medics and nurses from Brooke Army Medical Center’s (BAMC) Virtual Medical Center and Dwight D. Eisenhower Army Medical Center flew to Puerto Rico and set up camp within the 14th Combat Support Hospital (CSH) from Ft. Benning, GA. The mobile medical team established clinical operations in Humacao, one of the hardest hit regions, and started providing healthcare to the local population.

The team members, who saw over 150 patients a day, used telehealth to provide on-demand, synchronous critical care and specialty virtual health encounters. Rugged telemedicine equipment enabled the team to receive remote medical support from providers at BAMC in Fort Sam Houston, TX, Dwight D. Eisenhower Army Medical Center in Fort Gordon, GA, Naval Medical Center San Diego and the U.S. Naval Ship Comfort.

The deployment of this mobile team marked the first time that Army Virtual Health used its telemedicine capabilities for disaster relief.

The White House and Air Force One
The White House Medical Unit (WHMU) treats the President, the Vice President, their families, and visiting international dignitaries, as well as White House staff members. In early 2016, WHMU installed several telehealth stations, including transportable telemedicine units at the White House, Camp David and Air Force One, to provide high-quality care in a private, secure setting.

Telehealth helped saved lives when WHMU staffers were visiting Peru’s Andes Mountains.
Lt. Colonel James Jones, the physician assistant to the President’s physician and director of the medical evaluation and treatment unit at the White House, was on a three-day detail hiking in Peru. He used the transportable telemedicine unit (the size of a briefcase) along with a satellite connection in treating a Secret Service agent and two U.S. students, all of whom had serious physical reactions to the extreme altitude. Lt. Col Jones relied on the telehealth kit to evaluate these patients and to communicate with doctors back home. Once he stabilized the patients, he coordinated their evacuations and treatments.

U.S. Navy Hospital Ship Mercy
In March 2018, the U.S. Navy hospital ship Mercy transmitted the first-ever portable telemedicine broadcast from a ship at sea, transmitting vital signs and ear, nose, throat, head and neck skin examinations to a specialist physician at Naval Medical Center San Diego. The Navy also conducted its first-ever “tele-procedural mentorship,” enabling a medically certified naval officer aboard the ship to place a tourniquet, place a chest tube and surgically open an airway with guidance from a remote physician.

As the Mercy demonstration showed, telemedicine can provide remote access to specialists who are not on staff in hospital ships. Telemedicine also increases access to care for those service members and military families who live a significant distance away from the nearest Military Health facility.

U.S. Army Europe
Headquartered in Landstuhl, Germany, U.S. Army Europe provides telemedicine services to U.S. Army, U.S. Navy and U.S. Air Force service members assigned to over 20 bases in Germany, Italy and Turkey. The telemedicine program was launched in 2010, and in 2016 the Department of the Army purchased additional hardware and software solutions and created its own “telehealth-in-a-bag” solution for more mobile needs.

Veterans Health Administration (VA)
The largest integrated healthcare system in the United States, the VA has over 9 million enrollees, who are seen at 1,243 healthcare facilities. However, it is difficult for many veterans to visit specialists who are located far from where they live. At one time, this distance barrier often resulted in missed appointments or in veterans not seeking care. Telemedicine has largely solved this problem in recent years.

Since becoming an early adopter of the technology in 2003, the VA has steadily expanded its telemedicine program. In 2016, more than 700,000 veterans received care via telehealth, which resulted in over two million telehealth episodes of care.

If my dad were alive today, I believe he’d smile at the progress that has been made in using technology to bring healthcare to where veterans live. Those who serve and those who have served with honor deserve no less.

Joel E. Barthelemy is founder and CEO of GlobalMed, a telemedicine company that is honored to be the telehealth provider to the White House, Dept. of Veterans Affairs and Defense Health Agency. GlobalMed’s virtual health platform has earned the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) Authority to Operate (ATO) on DoD networks, making their solutions available to the Military Health System. GlobalMed is a Veteran Owned Small Business (VOSB) and Barthelemy is a Marine Corps Reserve Veteran.

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