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Defense Health Agency Advances Remote Virtual Healthcare

May 7, 2020


The Defense Health Agency (DHA) coordinates the medical forces of the Army, Navy, and Air Force, as well as the TRICARE system for active duty personnel and their families. This critically important Agency is currently allowing telehealth to deliver intensive outpatient care during the coronavirus outbreak. Telehealth, or telemedicine, involves the use of technology to provide long-distance care to patients who are unable to reach a hospital (telehealth is often non-clinical, whereas telemedicine is clinical). DHA’s directive specifically refers to telemedicine solutions for non-COVID-19 ailments, specifically intensive care of patients needing treatments for substance abuse or mental health care. Remote, virtual healthcare has become more of a necessity as patients’ regular healthcare needs persist in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, which brick-and-mortar hospitals are working around-the-clock to address.

Moves by DHA toward telehealth and telemedicine are an emergency measure to “scrub the templates,” in the words of Regina Julian, coordinator between DHA and branches of the military. This initiative entails moving many scheduled appointments to online visits in order to free up resources for COVID-19 patients. While this shift may be temporary, DHA has an opportunity to institutionalize a high-quality, accessible telemedicine network for active duty personnel and their families. The Agency said in 2018 that telehealth improves patient access and quality of care while reducing costs, specifically by decreasing the number of specialists on-site at military medical facilities. That year, DHA asked industry professionals to recommend ideas for centralizing the military’s telehealth services and designing a plan for long-term acquisitions that would sustain and improve a unified system. DHA’s “Connected Health” branch seeks to innovate at mobile health and telehealth for the millions of its patients, even considering health technology that utilizes applications, wearable devices, and virtual and augmented reality.

The U.S. Army reported on April 29, 2020 that Regional Health Command-Pacific (RHC-P) has led the path toward virtual appointments during the coronavirus pandemic. Since the onset of coronavirus, RHC-P carried out eight-hundred telehealth or telemedicine appointments, with seventy-four percent of Hawaii’s appointments being virtual. Frequently this involves video conferencing, which has become a ubiquitous feature of our daily lives with stay-at-home orders and many public gathering places closed. While telehealth and telemedicine were part of DHA’s operations before, the agency has expanded the platforms that patients and providers can use to include FaceTime and Skype.

Patients have appreciated the convenience of these new appointments, and the fact they can seek essential care unrelated to coronavirus without leaving their homes and risking infection. When the pandemic subsides, DHA can build on the dedication of providers giving virtual care on the frontlines, and fulfill its long-term plans to expand accessibility while reducing costs.

Washington Business Dynamics is proud to support DHA’s mission success in the areas of acquisition and finance. Our team works to improve the organization’s cost modeling, customer billing operations, and process optimization while providing executive level support to branch chiefs in order to implement organization-wide process improvement activities.

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