Telehealth – Cutting edge technology for Soldiers in Kentucky

Soldiers in western Kentucky have improved access to KYARNG behavioral health support with the ability to conduct clinical health care from a distance through a two-way, high-quality, secure, real time video interaction with medical providers. (courtesy photo)

Soldiers in western Kentucky have improved access to KYARNG behavioral health support with the ability to conduct clinical health care from a distance through a two-way, high-quality, secure, real time video interaction with medical providers. (courtesy photo)

By Stacy Floden, Kentucky National Guard Public Affairs

FRANKFORT, Ky. — Telehealth services are now available for all Kentucky Guardsman at Wendell H. Ford Regional Training Center (WHFRTC) Troop Medical Clinic (TMC).  This new technology will assist in finding the best behavioral health resources possible for Soldiers and family members.  The goal of the telehealth program is to support and keep Soldiers and their families on their A-game every day. Behavioral health is essential to maintain and improve so when bigger challenges or crisis come, you are ready.  Just like with physical health, you wouldn’t wait until the day of a PT test to start working out.

WHFRTC is now equipped with telemedicine capabilities for Soldiers to communicate through high-quality video for behavioral health assessments, focus exams, support and other appointments.  Soldiers can video-chat with behavioral health providers located in Frankfort from a secure, private room in the WHFRTC TMC.

“We know the time of our Soldiers is valuable.  It’s not uncommon for Soldiers to drive several hours one way for a single appointment in Frankfort,” said 1st Lt. Tim Olsen, Director of Psychological Health for the Kentucky Guard.  “Being able to connect through our telehealth equipment instead saves a huge amount of drive time, gas money, and time away from work or family.”

Kentucky is one of very few states piloting initiatives such as telehealth.  Clinical health care from a distance through a two-way real time interaction offers the best possible resources to the Soldiers.  Olsen said it may sound like a strange concept at first, but most are surprised by how quickly they get comfortable and are able to interact just like they would in person.  “The challenges of life and the military affect a lot of Soldiers and their families, and we want to be able to offer the highest quality support and services to get Soldiers back on their feet as quickly as possible.”

Appointments can typically be scheduled 8AM-4PM EST, Monday-Thursday.  Additional weekend availability may be provided as needed for drill weekends and training events.  Soldiers will check-in at the TMC 20 minutes before their scheduled appointment time, but if there are any behavioral health emergencies Soldiers can contact the national crisis line at 1-800-273-8255 or text to 838255.

“Many are reluctant to seek support out of fear about it negatively affecting their careers.  I was an NCO before I became a behavioral health officer and I get where those fears come from, but the reality is that the vast majority of challenges can be resolved or significantly improved and very few ever require any duty limitations,” said Olsen.  “Even the toughest Soldiers face challenges such as posttraumatic stress, depression, addiction, and relationship stress.  We want to make sure Soldiers know we’re here to support them through our confidential programs and that our ultimate goal is to aid them in exceling in their careers and lives.”

The Kentucky Guard has invested in making the experience as comfortable and simple as possible; with large high definition monitors in each room and extra effort to ensure privacy. Soldiers often adapt to talking to family and friends through Skype or Facetime when traveling or deployed, so this should be familiar.  The behavioral health staff does not plan on reducing any of its in-person services, so a Soldier can always drive to see someone in person for their appointment.

“Telehealth is one of the initiatives we have been working on the past few months.  Using it will save Soldiers and unit leadership significant time and financial resources,” said Col. Shontelle Adams, director of personnel.  “I am excited about the possibilities telehealth has to offer.  We now have the ability to conduct clinical health care from a distance.”

The team currently comprises three full-time behavioral health providers located in Frankfort, Louisville and Barbourville in addition to six traditional providers that support each brigade-level unit in the state on drill weekends.  The staff can provide free, confidential, short-term services directly or help find a local provider.  The behavioral health team also helps Soldiers make sure they’re taking advantage of all the other great resources the Kentucky Guard offers such as the chaplains, family assistance coordinators, resilience program, ESGR and substance abuse program.

To schedule an appointment, contact 1st Lt. Tim Olsen, Director of Psychological Health, at timothy.l.olsen.mil@mail.mil or (502) 607-1992.  Service members are welcome to self-refer directly.