Back to Top Skip to main content Skip to sub-navigation

Military hospital dials in virtual healthcare to combat COVID-19

Technician standing at a computer Zekelia Rembert, virtual health nurse care coordinator, reviews patient photos using the virtual health cart at the Virtual Medical Center at Brooke Army Medical Center, Fort Sam Houston, Texas, May 10, 2019. The team at the Virtual Health Center at Brooke Army Medical Center and Regional Health Command - Central has been selected as the 2018 U.S. Army Medical Department Mercury Award winner for Health Information Technology Team of the Year. (U.S. Army photo by Jason W. Edwards)

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus | Technology | Heroes Behind the Mask

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas, April 8, 2020 – Deb Deja’s follow-up visit with her provider at Brooke Army Medical Center was fast approaching when COVID-19 hit the news and the city. With a citywide stay-home order in place but pressing questions for her doctor, Deja became concerned by the thought of holding off on the appointment until a later date.

When the call came to offer her a virtual appointment instead, Deja jumped at the opportunity. “I was very happy to do it,” she said. “My trip each way is 30 to 45 minutes so it was very convenient.”

Her three-month follow up took place last week via phone. “The initial contact person asked all the questions just as if I was there in person and my doctor answered all of my questions completely,” Deja said. “I wouldn’t hesitate to participate in a virtual appointment again.”

Virtual medicine is a globally burgeoning field that’s exploded in recent weeks due to COVID-19 spread concerns and stay-at-home city and state orders. At BAMC, traditional face-to-face appointments for most routine care have increasingly shifted to virtual care to ensure social distancing as well as patient and provider safety.

Reducing COVID Exposure

BAMC has been leveraging every virtual asset to its fullest extent over the past month, starting with the San Antonio Military Health System COVID-19 Nurse Information Line, where nurses administer an initial COVID screening, and the Central Appointment Management Office, which offers telemedicine appointments for primary care needs.

“These avenues are really the foundation in connecting with people,” said Army Col. Timothy Switaj, chief, BAMC Department of Family and Community Medicine. “The majority of our conversation is spent actively listening to our patients while taking a thorough medical history.”

Virtual appointments can be used for medication refill requests, lab and radiology results, cold and allergy symptoms, urinary tract infections and routine follow-up appointments in which a physical exam isn’t required.  

In some cases, the doctor may determine face-to-face care is necessary and will immediately shift the appointment back to in-person. “We always keep patient safety in focus,” Switaj said.

Virtual appointments have proven beneficial on several fronts. “They are not only a hit with patients who enjoy the convenience of an at-home appointment, but it affords staff an additional platform to care for our patients’ needs in a timely and efficient way, thus improving overall access to care,” Switaj said.

“This gives staff more time to proactively manage patients and their health, especially focusing on preventive care,” he added.

Critical Capability

The shift to virtual healthcare is one the Military Health System has been anticipating for several years. Two years ago, BAMC became an innovation focal point with the launch of the military’s first Virtual Medical Center. The center’s intent is to serve as a testbed for new capabilities and a centralized program structure to advise and oversee global virtual health efforts.

Since that time, virtual health has proven invaluable in supporting troops on the battlefield with real-time health assessments, preventing lengthy trips to other locations for routine or certain types of specialty care, such as dermatology, explained Army Lt. Col. Sean Hipp, director, Virtual Medical Center. BAMC providers and specialists also serve in a virtual advisory capacity to their counterparts downrange.

Additionally, the center’s Mobile Medic program educates medics around the world, enabling them to conduct medical assessments in the field while communicating with a health care provider via video conferencing.

“By doing so, we are saving time and resources vital to our wartime and humanitarian efforts,” Hipp noted. “This capability will be increasingly critical to ensure that service members will survive war wounds and make it home.”

Future Innovation

While the majority of BAMC’s virtual appointments are conducted via telephone at this point, Hipp sees a tremendous future application for video-based platforms. “Just one example is a virtual lactation consult,” he noted. “Our experts can use video to teach new parents how to latch in the comfort of their own home.”

While video would be a welcome asset, the challenge has been in developing a virtual platform that’s able to be integrated with government software and electronic health records. This type of secure platform is still being researched, Hipp noted.

“Ideally, it will be a seamless product, transferring data between virtual and in-person appointments, while also transitioning data to the VA,” he said.

In the meantime, Hipp is exploring the expansion of telecritical support, noting the success of the Joint Critical Care Network in San Diego. This network of providers and other specialists monitor smaller wards in facilities throughout the military, providing overwatch and support for patients in intensive care units. With COVID-19, there’s a feasible telecritical application at BAMC.

“We are looking into the possibility of installing cameras and central monitoring equipment for wards in which COVID patients are being cared for,” Hipp said. “Critical care providers are a finite resource and having this capability would enable them to provide invaluable care to a greater number of patients.”

The long-term vision is to have providers centrally view the platform from home or another site, he added.

Redefining Delivery of Care

Hipp is hoping the current virtual trend will lead to lasting benefits.

“On the readiness side, we already have a robust readiness clinic and the ability to see patients all over the world rapidly. Now, we are gaining a better understanding of what can be done over the phone or on video, which will lead to better access to care throughout the San Antonio Military Health System,” he said.

For BAMC’s patients, one of the key benefits has been the ability to stay safe at home. Barb Mahoney’s husband, Pat, had a telehealth visit last week, which also saved the couple two hours in travel time. “It went very well,” she wrote in a BAMC Facebook comment.

Deja said her doctor reassured her several times during the call to call the clinic if she needed further guidance.

“I didn’t feel this pandemic stopped my care; it just changed the process,” she said.

As for the future, “This could potentially redefine how we deliver primary care,” Switaj said.

To inquire about a virtual appointment for non-urgent care, beneficiaries should call the Consult Appointment Management Office at 210-916-9900.  For COVID-related questions, call the SAMHS COVID-19 Nurse Info Line at 210-581-2266, option 6. The advice line is available Monday-Friday from 7 a.m.-7 p.m. and weekends from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. After hours, please call the MHS Nurse Advice Line at 1-800-TRICARE (874-2273), option 1. For medical emergencies, please call 911.

You also may be interested in...

Janssen COVID-19 vaccine returns to Military Health System

Article
5/4/2021
Military personnel wearing a face mask and a face shield administering the COVID-19 vaccine

Doses of the Janssen COVID-19 vaccine became available April 29 to those in the Military Health System eligible and authorized to receive COVID-19 vaccinations.

Recommended Content:

COVID-19 Vaccine Toolkit | Coronavirus | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts

U.S. continues sending medical supplies to India for COVID-19 fight

Article
5/3/2021
A picture of a C-5M Super Galaxy

DOD provides medical aid to India in the fight against the COVID-19 global pandemic.

Recommended Content:

COVID-19 Vaccine Toolkit | Coronavirus | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts

IT health care leaders among DOD’s ‘Top 100 Innovators List’ for 2021

Article
4/30/2021
A picture of Pat Flanders, the DHA's chief information officer and deputy assistant director for information operations and Army Maj. Ryan Costantino, data innovation chief for the Program Executive Office

Two Department of Defense innovators and 2021 awardees have created unique bridges between IT and health care.

Recommended Content:

Technology | Ektropy

U.S. Army Medical Team Administers COVID-19 Vaccines in Guam

Article
4/29/2021
Military health personnel wearing a face mask administering the COVID-19 vaccine

Army medical professionals assist in administering COVID-19 vaccine doses to local Guamanians.

Recommended Content:

COVID-19 Vaccine Toolkit | Coronavirus | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts

COVID-19 remote patient monitoring pilot marks initial successes

Article
4/27/2021
Photo of Army Maj. Daniel Yourk

Virtual health and other digital health technologies are an essential part of care delivery going forward for all patients, and especially the most vulnerable.

Recommended Content:

COVID-19 Vaccine Toolkit | Coronavirus | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts

Join Us!! Fourth COVID-19 Townhall Update with Lt. Col. Matthew T. Swingholm!

Article
4/27/2021
Fourth MHS Town Hall announcement with image of Lt. Col. Matthew T. Swingholm, discussing the Critical Need for Blood Donations, Wednesday, April 28 at 2 p.m. ET

Join us for the MHS' Fourth COVID-19 Townhall Update with Lt. Col. Matthew T. Swingholm

Recommended Content:

Armed Services Blood Program | Coronavirus | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts | COVID-19 Vaccine Toolkit

From coast to coast, Navy personnel helping stop COVID-19 spread

Article
4/26/2021
Military personnel wearing face mask getting people ready for the COVID-19 vaccine

From coast to coast, Navy Medicine personnel are helping to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts | COVID-19 Vaccine Toolkit

DHA’s immunization health care specialists support vaccine rollout

Article
4/26/2021
Military personnel getting COVID-19 vaccines ready

The Defense Health Agency’s Immunization Health Care Division specialists were instrumental in rolling out the COVID-19 vaccines to Department of Defense military medical treatment facilities around the world.

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts | COVID-19 Vaccine Toolkit

DHA Appointing Portal simplifies signing up for COVID-19 vaccination

Article
4/23/2021
Military health personnel wearing a face mask scheduling COVID-19 vaccine shots

A new online and easy-to-use COVID-19 vaccine appointment portal is rolling out around the world at Military Treatment Facilities. It needs some tweaking on the admin end, users say.

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts

COVID-19 Vaccine: All Adults Eligible MTF Option Screensaver2

Infographic
4/22/2021
A screensaver that encourages individuals to check in at their DOD vaccination sites to see appointment availability. Includes the TRICARE logo on the bottom right and a link at the bottom of the screensaver for individuals to learn more at www.tricare.mil/VaccineAppointments

A screensaver that encourages individuals to check in at their DOD vaccination sites to see appointment availability.

Recommended Content:

COVID-19 Vaccine Toolkit | Is It Your Time to Get the Vaccine? | Coronavirus

COVID-19 Vaccine: All Adults Eligible Graphic

Infographic
4/22/2021
A navy and gray graphic stating that all eligible and authorized DOD individuals can make a COVID vaccine appointment. Contains a QR code for individuals to use to sign up for an appointment. TRICARE logo is located at the bottom right corner.

Graphic stating that all eligible and authorized DOD individuals can make a COVID vaccine appointment. Contains sign up instructions.

Recommended Content:

COVID-19 Vaccine Toolkit | Is It Your Time to Get the Vaccine? | Coronavirus

COVID-19 Vaccine: All Adults Eligible Choices Screensaver

Infographic
4/22/2021
A navy and gray graphic with information on where adults can get the COVID-19 vaccine. Includes a link at the bottom of the graphic for www.tricare.mil/CovidVaccine and also has the TRICARE logo on the bottom right corner.

A screensaver that provides information on where adults can get the COVID-19 vaccine.

Recommended Content:

COVID-19 Vaccine Toolkit | Is It Your Time to Get the Vaccine? | Coronavirus

Clinic doors open wide for those wanting COVID-19 vaccine

Article
4/21/2021
Military personnel administering the COVID-19 vaccine

All eligible and authorized Department of Defense personnel can now get a COVID-19 vaccine if they want one.

Recommended Content:

COVID-19 Vaccine Toolkit | Coronavirus | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts

Laboratory professionals play important role in fight against COVID-19

Article
4/21/2021
Military health personnel wearing a face mask prepares COVID-19 test samples

Medical Laboratory Professionals Week, April 18-24, recognizes the behind-the-scenes work laboratorians do to generate clinical lab results and, ultimately, guide the courses of treatment for patients.

Recommended Content:

COVID-19 Vaccine Toolkit | COVID-19 Toolkit | Coronavirus | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts | Holiday Observances

Donate Blood: It's Mission Critical

Video
4/21/2021
DHA Seal

The pandemic has affected nearly every part of our lives, including reductions in blood donations. Find a military blood donor center today to donate blood in a safe environment where we take all precautions against COVID-19.

Recommended Content:

Armed Services Blood Program | Coronavirus
<< < 1 2 3 4 5  ... > >> 
Showing results 1 - 15 Page 1 of 37

DHA Address: 7700 Arlington Boulevard | Suite 5101 | Falls Church, VA | 22042-5101

Some documents are presented in Portable Document Format (PDF). A PDF reader is required for viewing. Download a PDF Reader or learn more about PDFs.