Telehealth: A better way than the highway
Long Distance Check Up
Veteran Richard Martinez sat in the exam room while his nurse practitioner listened to his heart and lungs and took his blood pressure.
After conducting an electrocardiogram to check for heart irregularities, they discussed his health. What made this appointment different: Martinez and the nurse were 120 miles apart.
Martinez lives in Pueblo, Colo., two hours away from the nearest VA locations with in-house doctors and nurse practitioners.
His nurse practitioner is based in Alamosa but provides care for Veterans in smaller clinics in Pueblo and La Junta.
Telehealth consultations can be just as good as in-person consultations. It depends on the medical reason for the visit. For example, if a patient comes in with a cold, a nurse can perform the basic assessment activities on site at the smaller clinic, and have a specialized video camera pointed in the patient's ear, nose and throat.
Martinez, new to Telehealth, describes his experience. “It’s a good idea, especially because I'm not much for long-distance driving.”
Although he missed the hands-on experience, he was happy he had medical expertise on hand when he needed it, without spending hours driving.
In some regions, there is not a dense enough Veteran population to allow for a fully-staffed medical center. Telehealth provides access to quality health care for Veterans in many rural areas.
“Nobody likes that three-hour drive.”
Bill Morgan is an army Veteran who lives near Craig, Colo. He loves his rural home, but it means he drives 160 miles to the nearest VA Medical Center in Grand Junction, Colo. He requires a blood test once a month, so he appreciates having access to Telehealth through the VA clinic in Craig.
“It saves me a trip all the way to Grand Junction. Nobody likes that three-hour drive, especially in the winter,” said Morgan.
In addition to regular medical check-ups and blood tests, Morgan participates in MOVE!, VA’s national weight management program.
Telehealth lends itself to the MOVE! program because it is difficult to find necessary staff to participate in each rural location. Several VA clinics now host MOVE! sessions via videoconferencing to larger medical centers. Other programs include diabetic education and smoking cessation.
Morgan likes the Telehealth program. “Telehealth is convenient, the staff takes great care of me, and it saves me a lot of time,” he says.
How VA Makes Medical Care Easier for Rural Veterans
Your call: drive hours to your nearest VA medical facility vs. click on a monitor from a closer Community-Based Outpatient Clinic.
Some Veterans live many miles from a VA medical center, making visits to the doctor an all-day event. Others with chronic conditions require constant monitoring, but opt to stay at home rather than in the hospital.
In both cases, VA’s Telehealth provides greater access to health care through the use of telecommunications and videoconferencing. VA patients are finding Telehealth to be just what they need to receive personalized care from their VA medical center.
The Veterans Health Administration is the nation's leader in Telehealth technologies, which means doctors and patients can meet for health services without physically being in the same place.
Patricia Ryan, Associate Chief Consultant for VHA Telehealth Services notes that in 2011 over 380,000 Veterans used its clinic-based Telehealth services. She said another 100,000 patients nationwide were enrolled in VA’s Home Telehealth program.
“With Telehealth, our Veterans can connect with VA specialists such as mental health, cardiology, dermatology, gastroenterology, rheumatology and urology,” Ryan said.
“This is important, because a large percentage of our rural Veterans are advancing in age. They have chronic health conditions that require constant monitoring. If it wasn’t for Telehealth, we’d be hard pressed to deliver the kind of day-to-day observation they require.”
“If it wasn’t for Telehealth, we’d be hard pressed to deliver the kind of day-to-day observation they require.”
Clinical Video Telehealth gives patients and providers the opportunity to conduct several aspects of medical examinations that do not require in-person visits. Veterans are able to visit a VA clinic near their home, connect to medical centers through videoconferencing, and transfer medical information by way of specially-designed telecommunications equipment.
Teleservices – Care for Veterans in Rural Locations
Clinical Video Telehealth primary care is just one of the many ways in which Telehealth connects Veterans to health care services. VA provides services in telerehabilitation, teledermatology, telemental health and teleretinal imaging, and the list is growing.
Future plans are “to expand the size and scope of telehealth programs to focus on expanding access to care for Veterans in rural locations,” said Ryan. “This will reduce the need for travel to specialist services, thus increasing the quality and timeliness of care.”