The following article is a first-person account by Army Lt. Col. (Dr.) Robert Cornfeld, chief health information officer and pediatric gastroenterologist at Madigan Army Medical CenterMadigan Army Medical Center website at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington.
MHS Video Connect, the Defense Health Agency's new comprehensive telehealth platform, puts Military Health System patients at the center of care by meeting them where they are – at home, their duty station, or wherever they happen to be. Open to all active duty service members, retirees, and their families enrolled in a military hospital or clinic, this web-based platform empowers patients to meet with their military health provider virtually through live video on any internet-connected computer, tablet, or mobile device.
MHS Video Connect's convenient, secure, and easy-to-use virtual video visit capability helps providers keep patients on mission and improves engagement with them, directly leading to better health outcomes. My patients have been thrilled with using MHS Video Connect and as more use it, demand for the platform will grow.
As a military clinician with years of providing virtual care and who now uses MHS Video Connect frequently, I believe the platform's appeal in part lies in how it enables a return to the historical model of providers delivering care wherever the patient was, usually at home. For the past century or so, however, we have brought patients to our home turf at the hospital. MHS Video Connect offers many of the benefits of traditional at-home care with modern tools, bringing care to the point of need in ways that medicine has not for more than a hundred years.
Freedom to Focus
A huge advantage of virtual video visits is that they free both patients and providers to focus on their mission instead of spending time traveling and waiting for medical treatment. For example, annual periodic health assessments are an important part of military readiness. If we conduct a PHA in person, we are taking that service member out of their place of duty for two or three hours – more if they have to travel to get to me – so that I can do a 20-minute visit with them. In trying to improve readiness, this setup may actually impede it.
If I use MHS Video Connect, I can find out what is happening with the patient in an efficient, clinically effective way. More importantly, we are conserving the fighting force and keeping them doing their job. They have 20 minutes with me and then they are back at work. Conserving the fighting force is a win for the Military Health System.
Virtual video visits, especially through MHS Video Connect, also help patients feel more engaged with their provider, building trust and collaboration in care. I began using virtual video visits several years ago as a brigade surgeon in Europe with soldiers geographically dispersed all throughout Europe, Africa, and Central Asia. I turned to utilizing video visits because these geographically remote service members felt like their doctor had literally seen them. It was a huge advantage for them to see me and talk with me about what problems they were having rather than just talking on the phone because they could see my level of engagement. They knew that the Military Health System was there to take care of them, no matter where they were.
Military parents in particular are universally surprised and appreciative when we are able to reach into their space and meet them where they are for their families' health care needs. Recently, I used MHS Video Connect to meet with a special needs child and her mother, who had four other special needs children. The mother said, "You cannot believe what it takes for me to bring my family in for a visit. It takes the better part of a day to coordinate it all." She was so grateful that I was willing to lean forward and help take care of her child using video virtual health because it saved her so much time and effort.
Finally, virtual video visits may greatly increase providers' insights into patients, improving quality of care. Adding video enables us to convey so much more real-time information back and forth – not just from the patient to me, but me to the patient. There is a huge advantage to seeing people's facial expressions rather than just talking to them on the telephone.
Case in point: I was on MHS Video Connect updating a mother about her daughter, who was doing quite well. The mother was visibly distressed, though. When I asked her what was wrong, she said, "Well, I was wondering when they're going to bring up my daughter's cancer."
Confused, I replied, "Your daughter's cancer? She doesn't have cancer." Her mother said, "Well, I looked up her results on Google and it said that one of the things that could be going on is she has cancer. And I spent the whole night awake worrying about that."
After reassuring her, I thought about how I never would have seen the mother's facial cues on the telephone. I would have just said, "Good news, her results are normal. I'll see her in a couple of weeks." However, because I could pick up on her expressions on video, I could identify a previously unknown problem, allay her anxieties, and improve her ability to care for herself as well as her daughter. Virtual video visits make such serendipitous discoveries much more possible, enabling us providers to better understand our patients and give them the care they deserve.