Virtual medicine will be norm in future crises, says health chief
In a demonstration of the telehealth process at Fort Campbell’s Blanchfield Army Community Hospital, clinical staff nurse Army Lt. Maxx P. Mamula examines mock patient Army Master Sgt. Jason H. Alexander using a digital external ocular camera. The image is immediately available to a provider at Fort Gordon’s Eisenhower Medical Center, offering remote consultation. (U.S. Army photo by David E. Gillespie)
WASHINGTON — Virtual health, also called telemedicine, is currently being used across 18 time zones, in 30 countries, and supporting more than 20 clinical specialties.
Immediately following the 2009 and 2014 shootings at Fort Hood, Texas, the Army's virtual health care was there, linking the survivors with behavioral health care providers "from Hawaii, D.C. and San Antonio," said Dr. Colleen Rye, Chief of Army Virtual Health, Office of the Army Surgeon General, at an Association of the United States Army Medical Readiness panel recently.
A virtual health pilot is now underway in U.S. Africa Command, where "tyranny of distance" means that the only medical service providers available on site are the medics and telemedicine, she said.
Another virtual health pilot is being conducted with Special Forces, she said.
WHAT IS IT?
In the example of Special Forces, telehealth takes the form of a James Bond-type suitcase, which is filled with medical gadgetry instead of spy gear designed by Q. Open it and "out pops a tablet computer, a device to connect to satellites and a whole array of peripherals, from otoscopes and stethoscopes to ultrasound cameras and ophthalmoscopes," Rye said.
With this equipment, health specialists can literally, "hear your heartbeat from 3,000 miles away," Rye said.
In other words, a medic could connect a patient at the point of injury to a specialist in another apart of the world, who could then provide the medic with detailed instructions on how to save the Soldier's life. The specialist at the other end could be a cardiologist, hematologist, orthopedist, pulmonologist – whatever kind is needed.
WHY IS VIRTUAL HEALTH CARE SO IMPORTANT?
Future combat will probably not look like it does in Iraq and Afghanistan, Rye said. Rather, the battlespace may be contested to such a degree that medevacs may be impossible and field hospitals, much less forward operating bases, may not be located nearby.
"[The] virtual hand will be reaching out, guiding medics through what they need right at the point of injury," she said.
Army medicine is currently building a global teleconsultation portal to provide virtual care through a vast network of health service providers. "The sun will never set on us" when it comes to providing care virtually anywhere and at any time, Rye said.
The Navy was thrilled by the promise of the Army's virtual health system, Rye said. They're now paying the Army to build identical systems on 67 Navy ships.
All of the new gadgetry was produced in Army laboratories, Rye said. Civilian medical facilities around the world are now using Army-produced technology, from telestroke to remote health monitoring.
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