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6/30/2010
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Army Using Telemedicine For Healthcare Delivery

Wounded soldiers, pregnant women, and diabetes patients are receiving medical and appointment reminders to support their rehabilitation and treatment.

The U.S. Army is using mobile technology to transmit health tips, appointment reminders, and general announcements to the cell phones of more than 300 wounded soldiers. The mobile phone-based secure messaging system called mCare is one of several innovative wireless technology solutions that the Army is deploying to improve the health of its employees.

"Patients with mild traumatic brain injury are a target population for mCare," said Col. Ronald Poropatich, deputy director of the Telemedicine and Advanced Technology Research Center at the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command in Fort Detrick, Md.

Poropatich outlined the Army's use of wireless technology last week at a hearing of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs subcommittee on health. He noted that since June 1, mCare has delivered 18,500 messages, with patients receiving a minimum of six messages per week.

The mCare system is HIPAA compliant, uses bi-directional messaging, and distributes information from a central website that uses a secure virtual private network through which healthcare providers can enter and control message content as well as review acknowledgements and delivery confirmations. The wounded soldiers using mCare are in the outpatient phase of their recovery and are recuperating at home.

mCare's initial group of targeted participants are warriors in transition assigned to Community Based Warrior in Transition Units (CBWTUs). Soldiers assigned to a CBWTU are typically National Guard or Army Reservists who receive outpatient care in their home community and are monitored remotely by a case manager or care team from a regional case management center.

"mCare is not intended to replace all face-to-face or telephone-based encounters from the CBWTU team, rather it is designed to complement these efforts with additional means of communication," Poropatich said.

The Army estimates that 63% of this message activity is related to appointment reminders, which are sent to the patient 24 hours and again 90 minutes prior to each scheduled clinical encounter. The system has demonstrated improvement in appointment attendance rates. Seventeen percent of the message activity is attributed to health and wellness tips, which are customized to the needs of each patient from a library of validated resources within the mCare application. Twelve percent of the message traffic is related to unit-specific announcements.

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