Advancements in telehealth improve access to healthcare

by Shireen Bedi, Air Force Surgeon General Public Affairs
Stripes Korea

FALLS CHURCH, Va. -- The Air Force offers a wide and expanding range of telehealth services giving patients the opportunity to receive more efficient, convenient, and patient-centered care.

Telehealth brings a range of services all working together to improve access. These include everything from mobile and electronic access to personal health information, to virtual appointments and enterprise imaging. These enhance every aspect of the patient experience, giving patients more information to make choices about their health.

The most used telehealth service is direct interaction with online systems like the patient portal and secure messaging. These tools offer features such as appointment reminders, prescription information, and allow patients to communicate via secure email messages with their healthcare team.

“Having access to patients electronic health records and a way to quickly connect with providers allow real-time, daily interaction or interventions with their healthcare,” said Lt. Col. Antonio Eppolito, chief of Air Force Telehealth. “Everything for the patient is centralized and they have 24-hour access to their up to date EHR.”

Telehealth also means being able to replace some in-person visits with virtual appointments. Virtual Video Visits, or V3 appointments, are particularly popular and increasingly common form of virtual appointments. These appointments are scheduled just like an in-person visit and done via a secured video teleconference at a military treatment facility. A coordinator remains with the patient to measure vitals and helps connect with the provider located at another MTF.

“The goal of these V3 appointments is it connect patients with a specialist they might not otherwise have access to,” said Eppolito. “Telehealth services allow patients to access such specialty care as genetic counseling, nutrition therapy, and mental health services.”

Another area of telehealth that is often overlooked is enterprise imaging. Enterprise imaging involves taking a diagnostic quality image, like a radiology exam, that is done in one place, and interpreted by a specialist who is at another location.

“In the areas of tele-radiology, tele-cardiology, tele-pathology, and tele-endoscopy, we are doing enterprise imaging,” said Eppolito. “As a result, the primary care provider is able to get specialty consultation and interpretation on a diagnostic image, even though the specialist is not physically in the same facility. This means the patient is able to get a quicker and complete diagnosis, and can pull up the report for future reference anywhere in the world.”

Telehealth also plays an important role in maintaining Airmen readiness. Having the ability to reach the care they need ensures that Airmen can address health concerns much quicker.

“Telehealth is vital to Airmen readiness since they can reach their primary care provider and get the treatment they need without much a delay,” said Eppolito. “Physicians in the U.S. can reach Airmen when they are in a deployed setting, outside of in-garrison medical facilities. Having access to real-time specialty care is valuable to maintaining readiness.”

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