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VA Medical Center uses Telehealth technology to reach more veterans

Oklahoma City VA Medical Center Clinical Health Technician, LPN Pam Elam (standing), assists a female veteran in connecting with her provider for a genetic counseling consultation. Photo by Tara G. Ricks.
Oklahoma City VA Medical Center Clinical Health Technician, LPN Pam Elam (standing), assists a female veteran in connecting with her provider for a genetic counseling consultation. Photo by Tara G. Ricks.

By Darla Shelden
Contributing Writer

To increase access for veteran health care, the Oklahoma City Veterans Administration Medical Center (VAMC) is now using Telehealth technology through the use of secure telecommunications and videoconferencing.

“We offer a variety of programs for our rural or immobile veterans,” says Tanya Leasure, Oklahoma City VA licensed practical nurse and clinical telehealth technician. “Our goal is to allow these veterans the same access to medical care as everyone else.”

The VA currently has over 700 hundred community-based outpatient clinics (CBOC) nationwide, with nine in Oklahoma, to bring VA care closer to home for veterans.

Travel to the medical center can be complicated and sometimes difficult for many veterans, particularly if the veteran lives in a remote or rural area. Some injuries such as traumatic brain injury or spinal cord injury further complicates travel.

“Right now, because the technology is so new, we have 888 patients using Telehealth,” said Tara Ricks, Public Affairs Specialist, Oklahoma City VA Medical Center. “The number of patients treated living in rural areas is almost 50,000.”

Ricks added, “The number of people living in rural areas that we haven’t been able to access yet, because they don’t know about the technology, is a little over 120,000. The need, especially in Oklahoma is great.”

Jackie Newman, Oklahoma City VA Facility Telehealth Coordinator, RN said, “As you can see by the numbers we have a lot of Veterans to reach that live in rural areas of Oklahoma, and telehealth technology will give us the ability to do that.”

“Our focus, as always, is to have the technology work for the patient and provide the right care, when they need it and where they need it,” said Newman.” Whether this care is provided in the their home, at one of our nine community outpatient clinics or at the main medical center, we aim to improve the health of veterans.”

The OKC VAMC offers community based outpatient clinics in Lawton, Ardmore, Stillwater, Altus, Ada, Enid, and Blackwell, OK and Wichita Falls, TX. There is also has an annex clinic on North May Ave. in Oklahoma City.

Programs include genetic counseling for patients who have reoccurring diseases in their family and Teleretinal exams for diabetes patients who may have bleeding in their retinas and need preventative measures to keep from losing their eyesight.

The Telemental counseling program can be important for veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) that may need regular sessions, but have limited access to the medical center.

Dr. Leber, chief of psychology services said, “Mental health professionals can provide quality care to many Veterans at a VA outpatient clinic that is more convenient and has the same results as if they were sitting in a provider’s office.”

Having this vital health information means physicians and nurses can change medications or other treatments and prevent serious health problems from developing.

There are also new technologies that make it possible to check on symptoms and measure vital signs in the home. Special devices, through home telehealth can connect a veteran to a VA hospital using regular telephone lines.

Patients that have been assessed by the VA for Care Coordination/Home Telehealth (CCHT) and determined this is an appropriate method of care, will be provided with a home telehealth device that meets the veteran’s needs.

Home telehealth devices the VA uses make it possible to connect a veteran patient to VA hospital through video technology and messaging devices that collect information about symptoms and vital signs from a veteran patient’s place of residence.

Care coordinators are able to link the patient with the physician to arrange treatment changes, set-up clinic appointments or arrange hospital admissions.

Through the VA Office of Telehealth Services disease management and telehealth technologies are used to target care and case management to improve the health of veterans.

The Oklahoma City VAMC, at 921 NE 13th St., serves forty-eight Oklahoma counties and two counties in North Central Texas (Wilbarger and Wichita) with a veteran population of over 225,000.

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