Satellite communications, email, and the Internet found their way into medicine. As other sectors such as education are using the systems to boost their capacities through e-learning, the health sector is exploiting the modern technologies through programs such as telemedicine and development of clinical diagnosis systems. Telemedicine involves the delivery of healthcare to remote locations through modern technologies such as the Internet and telecommunication systems. The US military is one of the institutions that have made great use of Telehealth. This article discusses how the military uses telemedicine and how it has helped them in their operations.
The US military is often involved in combat operations in foreign countries. In the past two decades, US soldiers have been involved in operations in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria. Working in foreign countries poses many health challenges to the soldiers. First, they are on a battlefield in areas not familiar to them. They, therefore, face hostilities from both the opposing battalions and the environment.
Before going to battle in foreign countries, the military carries medical equipment and professionals to help them manage health difficulties. Without technology, the medical equipment cannot serve the servicemen efficiently. In a battlefield, soldiers are usually divided into small manageable groups and deployed to different locations. The medical equipment and specialized personnel cannot be carried around to every area where the servicemen are. Furthermore, due to logistical challenges, not all military installations in foreign countries are sufficiently equipped.
The DoD has a centralized, secure email system known as the Army Knowledge Online (AKO). Members of the armed forces use the system to seek medical attention while in remote areas. The AKO is also accessible to all DOD healthcare providers. The patient’s medical history and images are captured at the point of care. They are then transmitted using the AKO email system. The teleconsultation process can be broken down into the following steps.
As earlier stated, it would be inefficient or impossible to transport medical professionals and equipment to every location where a soldier has been injured. With teleconsultation, the field healthcare providers can send data to specialized medical professionals who will respond with diagnosis information. This makes the patient ’s access to healthcare faster. Furthermore, The medical professionals can collaborate. The project manager provides a platform on which different medical professionals can exchange ideas regarding a particular case. With the collaboration, the servicemen are given quality healthcare.
Where possible, medical professionals in the US directly exchange medical data with soldiers in foreign countries. This has helped detect infections which would otherwise have gone undiscovered. The use of technology has particularly been useful in managing trauma. Through technologies such as video-conferencing, medical professionals back in the US have conducted direct interviews with traumatic soldiers.
The nature of military operations means that it would be difficult to obtain follow-up information. Soldiers are divided into different groups that are often mobile. It would be tiresome, unsafe, and ineffective for the doctors to move from one combat group to the other collecting follow-up information. However, with the use of telehealthcare, a doctor at the military installation can receive follow-up information from soldiers on the battlefield within seconds.
Given the benefits and potential of telehealthcare, the military is every day looking into ways of expanding its telehealth program. For example, in 2012 the military extended telehealthcare services to veterans. In 2016, the service was extended to military families. In the same year, the locations from which patients can access telehealthcare services were increased.