JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas –
Brooke Army Medical Center at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston has been selected to be the Army’s first virtual medical center, or MEDCEN, Army Surgeon General Lt. Gen. Nadja Y. West announced recently.
“We are tremendously proud and excited about this opportunity to expand the Army’s virtual health capabilities,” said BAMC Commander Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Johnson. “This is an amazing opportunity for BAMC to leverage state-of-the-art technology to support military medical facilities and patients around the world and for our medical professionals to benefit from a readiness standpoint.”
As a virtual MEDCEN, BAMC will be better able to implement cutting-edge virtual technology -- whether email, web-based programs, cameras or cellphone -- to offer other providers consultations and better serve service members, retirees and their families both stateside and overseas, explained Army Lt. Col. (Dr.) Sean Hipp, BAMC’s lead for virtual medicine initiatives.
“With virtual health nested within our organization, we will be at the cutting edge of virtual efforts; able to support medical professionals in Europe and any place where service members are located,” Hipp said.
Along with fostering in-house virtual efforts, BAMC will also have the resources to tap into virtual efforts underway at other military medical facilities and expand them military-wide. “Other Army regions are doing amazing things,” Hipp said. “Our goal is to build off those and expand what’s happening in one region to all.”
Rather than a separate facility, virtual efforts will be embedded in nearly every department throughout BAMC, Hipp noted.
“We have an amazing pool of providers,” he said. “We felt it would be beneficial to create a vast network rather than a small group of dedicated personnel.”
While the military virtual MEDCEN concept is new, virtual health is well established at BAMC.
For example, BAMC has a longstanding dermatology virtual health program. This involves providers from around the world uploading digital photos of skin sites to a web-based system. Once the photo is received, a BAMC-based dermatology resident reviews the case, after which a staff dermatologist checks the outcome.
“This is helpful to smaller military treatment facilities or sites in theater that do not have a dermatologist on staff,” Hipp explained. “It also prevents our patients from having to travel to obtain a specialist’s opinion or diagnosis.”
In one case, prior to virtual dermatology, a military patient was sent to a specialist two hours away six times for acne.
The dermatology program also has had a positive impact on resident success.
“Since we’ve been doing this, we now have a 100 percent success rate on testing for the board on the first try,” noted Chuck Lappan, project manager, Telemedicine Teleconsultation Programs Project Manager, Telehealth Regional Health Command-Central. “It enables residents to make a medical decision.”
BAMC also has a robust email-based consultation program for specialties such as cardiology, neurology and pulmonology, Lappan added, which enables providers to offer consultations to remote locations such as Antarctica or combat support hospitals downrange.
BAMC’s newest virtual program is called the “Mobile Medic.” This Internal Medicine program uses a product developed in Regional Health Command-Europe called a T.H.I.A.B., or “Telehealth in a Bag.”
Medics go to patients’ homes, set up the virtual equipment, and connect back to the Internal Medicine provider at BAMC. They will perform an exam with the provider transmitting data such as heart and lung sounds or imaging inside the mouth.
Mobile Medic not only will save time and inconvenience for patients, but also will increase the medic’s readiness to deploy, Hipp noted.
“The medical bag they use is very similar to the bag they’d use downrange,” he explained. “By using the tools here, they are more familiar with the equipment once they deploy.”
Hipp also cited an example of a virtual readiness program currently being used in other medical regions that he’d like to expand. This initiative involves conducting virtual Periodic Health Assessments and Post Deployment Health Readiness Assessments. These assessments are typically done on an annual basis and, in some cases, Soldiers and providers are required to travel to fulfill this readiness requirement.
“Currently, providers in Europe are conducting virtual assessments for Soldiers in Africa,” Hipp noted. “Virtual assessments save time and money, while ensuring we’re not taking valuable troops out of the field and away from their mission.”
Overall, as a virtual MEDCEN, BAMC will be able to “increase readiness, enhance patient satisfaction and leverage technology to improve access,” Hipp noted.
The BAMC team is excited about the opportunity to move forward with virtual efforts, Hipp said. “We have such a great and creative staff. The innovation of the BAMC staff will drive the mission forward.”