VA’s TeleHealth provides convenient option

FONDA – The use of new technology is allowing local veterans to receive health-care services without having to travel a long distance.

The Albany Stratton VA Medical Center’s new TeleHealth program uses video teleconferencing at the VA’s rural outpatient clinics.

The Fonda clinic has been testing the new technology for veterans living within its service area.

Teleconferencing eliminates the need for veterans to travel to the main medical center in Albany for some health-care services.

There is a scarcity of available medical specialists, especially outside Albany, said Albany Stratton VA Medical Center Director Linda W. Weiss.

With TeleHealth, health-care professionals from the VA center can examine patients and talk to them at the Fonda clinic with cameras and audio equipment.

The range of specialty services using TeleHealth is growing. The technology is being used for consultations regarding mental health, diabetes and pharmaceutical needs, among others. Vision and wound services via TeleHealth are among expected future services.

“The ability to provide specialty care is a real advantage without the veteran needing to make the drive in to Albany,” Weiss said.

“Distance, age and medical conditions are barriers to some veterans,” she said. “Fueling up your car is another challenge to traveling to the Albany VA.”

Also, younger veterans juggling family responsibilities, work and school may not have the time to come to Albany to receive care, the director said.

“Having TeleHealth cuts down missed appointments,” she said.

“TeleMental Health is our biggest service,” Weiss said, referring to the service for veterans with mental health issues.

A lack of insurance to cover mental health care and the rarity of having mental health providers in rural areas has contributed to the growth of TeleMental Health in rural areas, Weiss said.

Another service, TeleMemory, diagnoses conditions such as Alzheimer’s and dementia.

The Fonda clinic is one of four rural clinics to start evaluating for memory loss for veterans ages 65 and older. The other clinics are in Bainbridge, Catskill and Westport.

For more information about TeleMemory evaluations, call VA Demential Care Coordinator Lucy Phelps at 626-6051.

VA Public Affairs Director Peter Potter said it’s not cost-effective to build medical centers in rural areas, so TeleHealth is an answer to bringing health care to those areas.

“We are able to do this over the airwaves without hiring more staff,” Potter said.

He said the service is convenient for veterans.

“Instead of driving four hours and finding you have only a pimple, we can find out instantly through the TeleHealth program,” Potter said.

He said a camera can scan and diagnose medical conditions in detail.

“It is a much faster way to diagnose and treat,” he said.

“Based on need, TeleHealth can be used not only at [Community-Based Outpatient Clinics], but in veterans’ own homes in the future,” Potter said.

TeleHealth already is being used in some homes to test for blood sugar.

“TeleDiabetes can be done from home, and we envision all services can be evaluated and diagnosed in the veteran’s home,” he said.

Other future uses for TeleHealth technology include consulting with medical specialists from anywhere in the country and teleconferencing from different locations simultaneously.

“TeleHealth opens the ability of more access by providing quality specialized care,” Potter said. “We’ve gone from doctors making house calls back to house calls.”