Telehealth Booming in the Army

Soldiers stationed in Eastern Europe have virtual access to healthcare from their provider or specialists at the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany thanks to the Regional Health Command Europe (RHCE) use of the “TeleHealth in a Bag Platform” (THIAB).

To connect patients to specialists and providers from their home station, providers are given the standardized THIAB telehealth equipment kit and issued a secure HIPAA compliant private video chat room.

THAIB leverages a secure web-based platform which enables deployed units to connect to providers anywhere. Providers are able to share live diagnostic images with various peripheral device functions, which may include using an otoscope, high definition examination camera, and a stethoscope device to listen to heart and lung sounds.

There are different ways that units can use the THIAB system. For example, healthcare providers, including medics can connect to other medical units in their area or back to a clinic in Vilseck Germany or back to 28 specialists at the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center. THIAB is also used to connect soldiers with their behavioral health providers and Unit Behavioral Health Officers.

According to the Army Surgeon General Lt. Gen. Nadja Y. West, “The top challenge in using telehealth is to secure patient privacy over the open net. The Army is behind the civilian sector in delivering virtual healthcare because the Army can’t use commercially available applications such as Skype or FaceTime.”

“So far, we have connected facility to facility but now we’re going to have telehealth come to the home,” said Lt. Gen. West. She reports, “She received approval from the Defense Department about a year ago and is working the Army’s Chief Information Officer to implement telehealth securely. Another challenge is getting the right virtual healthcare equipment in place and training enough of the right people to operate the equipment.”

In a visit to the Mercy Virtual Care Canter in Chesterfield Missouri, Lt. Gen. West saw a four story building with no patients which was occupied only by healthcare professionals sitting before a command panel while coordinating and monitoring the care of patients around the country.

The Army was impressed and recently opened its own virtual healthcare center at the Brooke Army Medical Center on Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston. This facility acts as a hub for virtual healthcare and operates much as Mercy does to search the Army medical network for providers.

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