Virtual health extends Army Medicine reach
Army Lt. Col. Robert Cornfeld, Pediatric Gastroenterologist at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, conducts the first in-home virtual health visit within Regional Health Command Europe. In-home virtual health provides patients with the option to conduct a doctor's visit without having to go into a clinic. (U.S. Army photo by Ashley Patoka)
FOr someone with a chronic medical condition, frequent trips to the doctor's office can be cumbersome. The Regional Health Command Europe Virtual Health office recognized that inconvenience and developed a way for patients to meet with their doctor from the comfort of their own home.
In-home virtual health provides patients with the option to conduct a doctor's visit without having to go into a clinic.
Army Lt. Col. Robert Cornfeld, Pediatric Gastroenterologist at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, conducted the first in-home virtual health visit within RHCE. He said he was excited to be able to use this tool as another option in providing health care.
"Many of my patients are young children, so for them to go into the clinic for their virtual health appointment, can be a significant event – this streamlines it," he said.
Army Sgt. Christopher Williams, whose son is a patient of Cornfeld's, was really excited about the opportunity to have in-home virtual health. Prior to in-home virtual health, Williams and his family would have to drive to the Vilseck Army Health Clinic, Vilseck, Germany, to conduct virtual health visits with Cornfeld, so he jumped at the opportunity.
"Being that I am stationed at Grafenwoehr, this saves me a 20 minute drive to Vilseck," Williams said. "It's more convenient to do it at home and since right now I am the only parent while my spouse is at school, I can be at home. This is just a lot more convenient."
Matthew Bergosh and his parents are also familiar with frequent doctor's visits and were happy to give this new technology a try.
"As a mom," Manuela Bergosh said, "to not have to go to so many doctors' appointments, to not have to spend so much time on the road, it is just so convenient – and it saves time and money."
Manuela's son, Matthew, is also one of Cornfeld's patients. Matthew has a chronic medical condition which requires frequent check-ins.
With the help of virtual health, Matthew can be a patient of Cornfeld's but not have to make the more than four-hour drive to LRMC every month for check-ups. Instead they meet virtually, and now they have the ability to do that from home.
"I think it's great," Matthew said, "because as a student and an athlete I don't have a lot of time and I get pretty sick of going to the doctor's office. This is just a lot more comfortable and a lot easier."
Cornfeld is not new to the world of virtual health. While serving as a brigade surgeon he used the tool to reach his gastro intestinal patients, but was challenged by his commander to use it for their Soldiers as well who were scattered throughout Europe and beyond. He said during this time his eyes were really opened to the technology and what it could do for the patient.
"I am still very much learning my way with what I am comfortable managing from afar and what I think needs managed in a closer manner," Cornfeld said. "However, I think as technology changes and expectations change for what families want to receive from health care, I think we as health care providers have to meet our families where they are. Whether that's e-mail systems, or virtual health, these are the systems that families are familiar with. If we can make things easier for them – by really just challenging ourselves, I'm willing to do that."
Cornfeld says he uses virtual health in conjunction with in-person visits to streamline his patient's trips to LRMC. For both the Williams and Bergosh families, Cornfeld had initial consults through virtual health which helped him identify the services they would need when they visited.
"We are able to take a visit up here to LRMC that would usually take a week and streamline it so it only takes a couple of days now [through the use of virtual health]," Cornfeld said.
Pediatric Gastroenterology will not be the only specialty offering in-home virtual health. According to Steven Cain, Regional Health Command Europe Virtual Health deputy, there are a number of other clinics in the process of lining up in-home virtual health visits.
One area they hope to start using the service in soon is with Lactation Consultation for new moms.
"We want to be able to reach out to new moms once they get home," Cain said. "We have this ability to be able to connect with the patient again from the comfort of their own home; this is going to be a very impactful service."
The in-home service is already proving impactful for Cornfeld's patients.
"It's pretty amazing," Matthew said, "it's also a lot more comfortable to talk about things when you are in your own home instead of having to go out to the doctor's office."
Along with being convenient, in-home virtual health was also easy for Cornfeld's patients to use.
"I'm not that good with computers and I was able to connect," Williams said. "I had a connection test [the day before our appointment] to make sure I was set up and ready to go."
Patients are sent a link which takes them to their providers "virtual exam room". To access the room, each visit is assigned a pass code – ensuring patient privacy. In the "room" providers have the ability to share images, lab results, etc, and with the use of their web camera, see each other as well.
Cornfeld said he thinks virtual health, and in-home virtual health helps providers meet the needs of patients, "and ultimately they are our customer so if we can make life easier for them then we have a satisfied customer."
He went on to say that one of the benefits of virtual health is that it allows providers at LRMC the ability to see more patients.
"One of the advantages of virtual health is getting people care they otherwise would not get," Cornfeld said. "For all patients it may not be the 100 percent solution, however, for the majority, in my experience, it's a 90-95 percent solution. It's a lot better than the zero percent solution they had before."
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