INCIRLIK AIR BASE, Turkey --
“They just sat there as something we could use but didn’t.”
Those words once described the video teleconference machines in the 39th Medical Operations Squadron mental health clinic until the innovative Airmen here found a new way to use them.
Creating a new routine with the existing capabilities, providers can now provide readily accessible mental health care for all of Incirlik Air Base’s permanent party personnel, deployers and geographically separated units.
“Telehealth allows us to be able to support units that don’t have their own mental health services,” said Maj. Timothy Ralston, 39th MDOS mental health flight commander. “We are able to real-time work with a patient to assess them or deliver treatment. We can do that remotely here and all of the research shows that VTC is just as effective as face-to-face counseling. Our goal is always to help people be better equipped for the mission and better able to do their job.”
Previously used as a way to reach mental health providers when one was not available in the clinic, the VTC machines nowadays are working overtime to provide telehealth services to Airmen and Soldiers across Turkey and Africa.
“A lot of them have a doctor or physician's assistant providing medical care, but if they have a mental health issue those providers aren’t comfortable handling, they can now refer the member to us,” said Tech Sgt. Heather Osten, 39th MDOS NCO in charge of mental health. “One of our providers can (video chat) with the patient at the location they’re in and give them the healthcare that they are not able to get locally. Coming here and finding out that we’re using it with all of these different sites is really awesome because (I don’t know) where else they would get their mental health care.”
In an Air Force culture charged with doing more with less, the video chat capabilities allow patients to stay in place while getting treatment, alleviating the need to temporary duty travel to receive mental health care, which directly gives time back to the warfighter and saves money on travel expenses.
“It’s good for the member because they want to be seen as somebody who is reliable and strong; it’s good for the unit because they are not short a person and they don’t have to short notice task someone,” said Osten. “Basically, it’s about helping the mission keep going.”
Not only does the new process offer cost saving and accessibility without sacrificing quality of care but it also allows Airmen and Soldiers to take care of what some consider to be their “invisible wounds.”
“People tend to take more care of their physical health than mental health,” said Ralston. “When you’re struggling with something like depression, it's an invisible injury. If you had a broken foot you wouldn’t continue to run, you’d get it taken care of and it’s the same thing with mental health. If it’s holding you back it’s better to take care of it proactively and as they come up.”