Air Force expands virtual appointments

Over-the-phone virtual appointments save time and keep you healthier. The Air Force Medical Service expanded access to virtual appointments last year, and others in the Military Health System are using the Air Force model. —
U.S. Air Force graphic

FALLS CHURCH, Va. — The Air Force Medical Service is eliminating some of the hassle of medical appointments by expanding use of virtual, over-the-phone appointments for patients who do not need to see their provider in person.

“When you are really sick, need a shot or an examination, then sure, you need to go in and see your doctor face-to-face” said Maj. David Abbott, director of the Access to Care Program at the Air Force Medical Support Agency. “We find that many appointments that eat up space in our providers’ calendars don’t require a face-to-face visit, and can be accomplished quicker and just as effectively over the phone.”

Virtual appointments are quicker and easier than coming into the office. What could take hours out of your schedule in person can be resolved in minutes over the phone. Avoiding the waiting room also reduces your risk of exposure to illness.

Patients at Air Force military treatment facilities can make a virtual appointment the same way they would a regular appointment. Patients call the MTF appointment line, or use secure messaging to request an appointment. The MTF staff will recommend a virtual appointment if it is appropriate and available. Air Force patients may still choose a face-to-face appointment, but many prefer the convenience of virtual appointments.

“Adoption of virtual appointments has gone very well,” said Abbott. “So far, 88 percent of Air Force MTFs are using virtual appointments, for things like prescription refills, referrals and simple consultations. On average, the AFMS conducts 15,000 virtual appointments a month.”

Virtual appointments are also perfect for active duty service members who need to complete one of their required health assessments.

“I recently did one of my post-deployment assessments virtually,” said Abbott. “My primary care provider at Andrews Air Force Base called me and we ran through the checklist. He asked if there were any physical conditions I wanted to see him for in-person, I said no and we moved on. That saved me from having to drive across town and back, and kept me out of a waiting room.”

The Air Force virtual appointment program began in June 2017, and has been so effective that it is now a model for others in the Military Health System.

“The Defense Health Agency, the Army and the Navy are all working to adopt our model for virtual appointing,” said Abbott. “We think it’s just a great way to improve access, build the relationship between doctor and patient, and keep our patients healthier.”