Care Close To (or at!) Home
Already recognized as a leader in the development and use of telemedicine, VA is expanding its telehealth services to meet the growing needs of its patient population.
"The future of health care is about meeting Veterans where they are," Acting Under Secretary for Health Dr. Poonam Alaigh recently said. "Further expansion of care beyond the walls of the traditional medical center or clinic is part of our future and is the type of health care our Veterans deserve."
Last year, home telehealth across VA nationally reduced hospital bed days of care by 58% and hospital admissions by 32%; telemental health reduced mental health bed days of care by 35%.
Here are some of VISN 4's Telehealth Success Stories:
Telederm Saves Veterans Miles
Teledermatology allows dermatologists to serve Veterans hundreds of miles away by viewing high quality images remotely. In the first half of fiscal year 2017, Teledermatology saved more than 300 Veterans in VISN 4 from traveling more than 100 miles for a dermatology appointment; more than 800 from traveling between 51 and 100 miles; and 2,157 from traveling less than 50 miles.
Veterans who need intensive care at the Wilkes-Barre VA Medical Center are safeguarded by an additional layer of safety and experience better outcomes thanks to a critical care team at the Cincinnati VA Medical Center.
In Wilkes-Barre VAMC's Tele-ICU, intensivists and nurses monitor health information and communicate with Wilkes-Barre staff through real-time audio, visual, and electronic means.
"This backup service gives nurses and doctors a sense of comfort, knowing they will bolster patient care outside of regular administrative hours," said Registered Nurse Bill Burger. "The additional set of eyes is instrumental in giving us alternative treatment plans.
"On several occasions while working the evening shift, I have called upon them to assist in the management of complicated medical situations."
Telehealth Defeats Weather
In March 2017, Winter Storm Stella created travel and communications challenges that threatened to jeopardize home monitoring for patients at both the Lebanon and Wilkes-Barre VA Medical Centers.
Thanks to modern telehealth technology, Lebanon VAMC care coordinators, who are registered nurses, were able to provide ongoing monitoring and care to more than a thousand Veterans from both medical centers – all from the comfort and safety of their homes.
The Impact of Telehealth on Mental Health Care
At the Corporal Michael J. Crescenz VA Medical Center in Philadelphia, some Veterans benefit a great deal from Clinical Video Telehealth counseling sessions, for a variety of reasons.
"I have to travel from Delaware to Philadelphia, and having virtual access to my medical team saves me loads of time and money," said one Veteran. "The systems are easy to use. I believe it is equally effective to being physically present. The experience is extremely personal. I don't feel like a number. I get to bring her into my personal space. The environment is comfortable and safe."
Following a telehealth session, another Veteran shared: "It didn't feel clinical. I felt less guarded and more open to say my feelings. Sometimes, when sitting with someone face-to-face in a room, it can feel, um, interrogating, and less like talking with someone listening to help you."
Additionally, following a February snowstorm, Dr. Marta MacDougall, a psychologist, was able to keep appointments with Veterans despite not being able to travel in hazardous conditions.
All of these timely, uninterrupted episodes of care are important examples of achieving VA's mission of caring for those "who shall have borne the battle," and for their families and their survivors.