The 412th Medical Group at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., conducted the U.S. Air Force’s first Air Force Medical Service Virtual Appointment recently when a patient consulted with a provider via virtual appointment, rather than an in-person appointment.
The 412th Aerospace Medicine Squadron Flight Medicine Clinic initiated the appointment at approximately 7:30 a.m., May 17, and it was followed by a Family Health virtual appointment at 7:45 a.m.
A virtual appointment is when a provider contacts the patient via a cell phone, landline or through video conferencing rather than a face-to-face appointment to discuss their health concerns initially or from a prior visit. This allows the provider to virtually follow up with the patient for issues such as laboratory testing for a specific medical concern or providing medical advice. Due to the geographical location of Edwards AFB, virtual appointments could prove to be very beneficial for our patients that live several miles away but unable to come in for an appointment but would like to speak to a provider about their condition or diagnosis.
Major General Roosevelt Allen, Director of Medical Operations and Research, Office of the Surgeon General, described Virtual Appointments as a way to “enhance access by enabling patients to visit a credentialed healthcare provider in a non-face-to-face encounter using a cell phone or land-line phone to address their healthcare needs.”
Virtual appointments will not replace every visit to the Primary Care Manager (PCM), but are an option for minor medical issues, laboratory results, follow-up, pharmacy refills or changes, some Physical Health Assessments, and even mental health evaluations. The virtual appointment will be initiated by the provider or team and is not scheduled by the patient.
“Virtual appointments allow a provider and a patient to connect and discuss medical issues conveniently while promoting greater availability of medical care,” said Capt. (Dr.) David Garcia, 412th Medical Group Medical Director. “When used as intended, they are consistent with the goal of every military health provider which is to provide the right level of medical care, at the right time with the right patient. Virtual appointments will help us improve the health of all we serve at Edwards Air Force Base. We are tremendously excited about offering this new type of customer service to our beneficiaries.”
Col. Norman West, 412th MDG commander, said the 412th MDG is absolutely committed to innovation and process improvements that lead to greater medical care access and exceptional patient experience. “In fact, we have a strong pioneering culture dedicated to ensure safe and effective medical care,” the commander said. “We are working hard to democratize healthcare, meaning that a partnership is cultivated between patient and provider team. Virtual medical care is a reasonable step to make healthcare more convenient.”
According to West, research at Harvard Medical School estimates that at least a million virtual appointments occurred in 2016.
“Although feasibility testing was done, the 412th Medical Group was the first Air Force medical clinic to successfully offer virtual appointments in Family Medicine and Flight Medicine. Our patients love the convenience, autonomy and freedom this option provides. We are now exploring even more options to leverage technology and amplify trusted healthcare.”
The 412th Medical Group will implement a full rollout in June 2017. Patients that meet specific criteria will be asked by their provider or team if they would like to have a virtual appointment instead of coming in for a face-to-face appointment if a follow up appointment is required.