FORT HOOD, Texas— Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center was on a steady course to increase its virtual health services when the COVID-19 pandemic swept the nation.
Now, due to the opportunities within the crisis, CRDAMC is by far the biggest provider of virtual health services in the DoD. Since March 2020, CRDAMC has provided over 25,000 virtual video visits to patients.
“A significant number of CRDAMC patients prefer the convenience of face-to-face discussions with their clinicians from the setting of their choice,” said Col. Richard Malish, CRDAMC commander. “Even so, virtual healthcare offers more than convenience. It frees our clinical teams from time-intensive requirements, increasing their capacity to meet more patient needs. By leveraging the efficiency of virtual care we can now expand on prevention efforts and offer urgent care access.”
The concept of using virtual health services to manage healthcare needs is not a new one. CRDAMC also leads DoD in patient utilization of the Tricare online portal application and internet-based Secure Messaging.
“Based on patient feedback we rapidly embraced video visits as the best means to replace traditional face-to-face appointments for most routine care appointments. This still allowed for an optimal patient-provider connection, minimized risk to the patient and diminished the potential for a care gap due to disrupted operations,” said Lt. Col. Garrett Meyers, chief of the Department of Family and Community Medicine. “It was a huge task to get all clinics up and running in such a short time. After analyzing capabilities of all clinics, we identified what resources were needed, how we could leverage regulatory changes to policies and developed solutions to overcome any challenges.”
Meyers said they looked at using existing hardware–laptops, cellular phones and tablets–wherever possible. But found that some of the current laptop or desktop computers or the available wifi services weren’t able to give the functional connection they needed.
“So we procured or repurposed tablets and smartphones and expanded wifi access to ensure clinicians could conduct hassle-free video visits using approved DHA platforms Google Duo, VA Video Connect, or Facetime,” he said.
As everyone then needed to be quickly trained on the hardware, platform/software and workflow processes, Meyers said, they created a tiger team that rotated to all primary care clinics to ensure everyone on staff could operate the equipment and troubleshoot any connection problems.
“We sought continual feedback from patients along the way, too, to ensure we were meeting our patients’ expectations, Meyers said. “We received many ICE comments applauding our virtual video visits. The recurrent theme was that patients liked the ease and convenience, and looked forward to this being the norm for future appointments.”