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Army Telemedicine Pilot Targets a Familiar Pain Point: The ER

A six-month program aims to connect non-urgent care visitors at a Kentucky military hospital with primary care physicians almost 500 miles away.

By Eric Wicklund

- The U.S. Army is testing a telemedicine platform that connects non-urgent ER visitors in a Kentucky hospital with doctors at another hospital some 445 miles away.

The project, launched on Feb. 2, aims to reduce wait times at Blanchfield Army Community Hospital (BACH) in Fort Campbell and enable the hospital’s ER staff to focus on urgent cases. It may eventually lead to the development of a virtual care program for military personnel stationed overseas.

"If you or your family member is sick, having access to a doctor right away is a priority. This is why some patients present to the ED with low acuity,” Master Sgt. Jason Alexander, clinical operations NCO for the Army’s Regional Health Command-Atlantic (Provisional), tells the Defense Video & Imagery Distribution System. "This pilot aims to identify patients who fit this category and redirect them to a primary care doctor at Eisenhower (Army Medical Center in Augusta, Ga.). Not only will the care provided be focused to their need but it will also help reduce their wait time and allow ED professionals to take care of more urgent cases."

The nation’s Armed Forces have long been among the vanguard in developing mHealth and telehealth platforms for healthcare, particularly in connecting veterans to the nation’s network of VA hospitals and healthcare providers. Earlier this year, the Department of Defense issued a memorandum expanding telemedicine access for military members and their families.

This project targets two issues that target not only military hospitals but all health systems – a lack of access to timely care for non-urgent issues, and overworked ERs dealing with patients who would be better off seeing a primary care doctor.

"Our whole objective here is really not to just assist wait times but to assist people who leave because they are tired of waiting and leave without being seen," Alexander said. "So the 'left without being seen' rate should drop, our wait times should drop, and the quality of the encounter and our handoff back to primary care should improve as we integrate our systems from this redirect process back to into primary care inside of the hospital."

The two hospitals involved are drawing on a pretty deep talent pool to get the project going. Eisenhower Army Medical Center’s (EAMC) telehealth center is among the best in Georgia, particularly in connecting patients to behavioral healthcare providers. It’s also based at Fort Gordon, home to the Army Cyber Center of Excellence, so any technical and communication issues are easily addressed.

The project draws on the virtual patient-centered medical home (PCMH) concept well known in healthcare circles. At BACH, ER visitors are screened on arrival, and those with non-urgent issues are directed to an area where they can have a video exam with clinicians at EAMC. The encounter is logged into the EMR so that care management is transferred back to the primary care physician after the telemedicine visit.

Also involved in the six-month project are combat medics and nurses from Fort Campbell’s 86th Combat Support Hospital. Officials say they’re training on the technology in hopes of someday using it with forward deployed units.


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