DOD's Jonathan Woodson: Telehealth a strategic goal for the military

As care standards continue to evolve, it's imperative that the Military Health System embrace telehealth.

Americans won't accept anything less than an advanced standard of care, according to Jonathan Woodson (pictured), assistant secretary of defense for health affairs at the U.S. Department of Defense, the keynote speaker Tuesday at the American Telemedicine Association's annual meeting in Baltimore.

"Patients are demanding that they receive care in a way that's efficient for them," Woodson said. "The old concept of 'you come in my office when I'm available to receive care' is going to recede."

Woodson, a vascular surgeon, said that when he thinks back to how he used to take care of patients, he realizes the arrangement was archaic.

"I would have individuals come in repetitively, lose time from work or other important life activities, and just check a wound," Woodson said. "You kind of scratch your head and think 'there must be a better way of rendering some of this care.'"

Woodson said that even answering questions led to a substantial loss of time for patients because it meant they had to visit him in person.

"We need to be able to deliver care in a distributed fashion in garrison, as well as in a deployed environment," he said.

Telehealth also is a strategic enabler that helps the Military Health System on its mission of global health engagement, according to Woodson. Because the United States offers a lot of humanitarian assistance and disaster response to other nations, he said, it oftentimes looks like the "9-1-1" for the world.

"Increasingly I have foreign ministers of health and foreign surgeons general come to my office to talk about how we can partner to deliver care in remote areas of the world where, in fact, disasters might occur," Woodson said.

Ultimately, the future of healthcare will require fewer people to take care of more people, Woodson said. To that end, biosensors, algorithms and telemonitoring will be vital to care delivery.

"We're going to be invading the white spaces of where people live to deliver care," Woodson said.

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