Defense Health Agency Using Virtual Tools to Enhance Health Care

The Defense Health Agency is utilizing virtual health tools like MHS Video Connectopens to create a digital-first, patient-centered health care delivery system.

In a session titled “MHS Video Connect—Optimizing E-Health Encounters” at the Defense Health Information Technology Symposiuopens Health.milm, key experts in health care IT discussed how leveraging technology can better connect patients and providers.

“MHS Video Connect supports Lt. Gen. Crosland’s mission,” said U.S. Army Lt. Col. Gary Legault, director of the Virtual Medical Center, Defense Health Agency. “ This video platform allows providers to perform virtual health to engage with patients virtually from the convenience of their homes.”

Currently, about 80% of all health care visits in the Military Health System are in-person, while only an estimated 20% are virtual. Of the virtual visits, almost 95% are by telephone while 3% are video visits.

MHS Video Connect is the primary digital health platform used by the DHA and is also integrated into MHS GENESISopens, providing a seamless source of information for patients and providers. The web-based platform can be operated conveniently on mobile or stationary devices to enable digital health care delivery anytime, anywhere.

Features for a Seamless Interaction Between Patient and Provider

According to U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. William Lunsford, chief of virtual health integration at the Department of Defense Healthcare Management System Modernization program, “follow-up care may not require hands-on physical examination,” noting the platform “reduces or eliminates physical inconveniences of in-person visits, reduces communicable diseases, patients benefit from care in their own environment, and supports patient child or elder care responsibilities.”

Aside from convenience, patients can make timely appointments —getting patients answers faster.

“Virtual care is convenient, customizable for the patient and provider, cost effective, and expands access to care,” said Legault. “Patients needing medical care often struggle to find timely answers or appointments and virtual care options can provide immediate guidance and triage patients that need face-to-face options.” 

Key features of MHS Video Connect include:

  • Clinical and admin workflow integration
  • Flexibility for carrying specialty/nuanced uses
  • Increased access to care on nearly any device using a web browser
  • Ability to screenshare documents and applications
  • Capacity to support more than 75 attendees using group visits
  • 24/5 help desk support

Legault mentioned that virtual health is especially helpful for medical subspecialties.

“For example, instead of waiting a month to see a dermatologist about a rash, send a picture of the rash to a tele-dermatologist and get a response within a few days,” he said.

Use of MHS Video Connect

MHS Video Connect was deployed in May 2021 with an MHS-wide rollout in June 2022.

According to DHA numbers as of August 2023, an average of 4,730 weekly visits take place, with an average of 7,923 weekly participants. There have been over 255,000 conferences, with over 440,000 participants. Over 70% of video visits were scheduled through MHS GENESIS.

Legault credits “digital health champions” as part of the success of MHS Video Connect.

“A digital health champion is someone at a military hospital or clinic that can get up at meetings or get in the clinics and say, ‘You have this technology: use it, it works great. Do you have any questions? I’m happy to help you,’” said Legault. “What we found is where we have those champions; people are excited about the technology. That’s what we need to find at each location.”

A Family’s Virtual Health Journey

During the question-and-answer portion of the session, a mother shared how MHS Video Connect helped her daughter get the care she needed.

When her health care provider lost her daughter’s pediatric provider, U.S. Air Force Major Crystal McClatchey, market chief health Informatics officer at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, was worried how they were going to find a new therapist.

Not only had her daughter, who has depression and ADHD, created a rapport with the provider, but the location of the office was just down the road from where they lived.

After losing another therapist after just one visit, McClatchey was getting worried. Eventually, they were referred to a new therapist but who was located almost an hour drive from their home.

“When we travelled to Dumfries for her visits, it took her away from school for at least three to four hours,” McClatchey said. “To miss a half-a-day of school once a week, isn’t ideal. She struggled and was failing.”

She discussed their situation with their new therapist, and MHS Video Connect was presented as a possible option for her daughter.

“Because they had face-to-face interaction at first, she had developed a rapport with her. So, we started the virtual visits, and it was good,” McClatchey said. “I think for kids, it’s a wonderful option.”

She shared how telehealth is an important tool to help parents.

“It’s also good for just asking your health care provider questions in general, or to voice some concerns without having to actually going to the office, if it isn’t necessary,” she said.

“As a triage nurse, we would often see parents bring their children for something that wasn’t necessary, but they wanted to see a doctor to make sure. MHS Video Connect gives them this option without going into the office, or ER.”

“A lot of parents just need reassurance that their kid is okay,” said McClatchey.

The Virtual Medical Center also offers other tools for telehealth purposes, other than MHS Video Connect.

“The Virtual Medical Center offers Behavioral Health Resources and Virtual Experience (BRAVE), which provides tele-behavioral health for active duty service members globally,” said Legault. “The VMC Virtually Integrated Provider Readiness and Remote (VIPRR) Clinic offers virtual readiness exams for service members. The MHS patient portalopens MHS Patient Portal login and Nurse Advice Lineopens TRICARE are virtual methods for patients to reach out for care.”

Operational programs include the Advanced Virtual Support for Operational Forces, known as ADVISOR, which offers emergent specialty care and Global Teleconsultation Portal for nonemergency consults for providers needing extra guidance.

The VMC also plans to provide remote patient monitoring options in the future.

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