Telehealth is Making Life Easier for VA-Enrolled Veterans

As debate swirls around the topic of expanding VA health care, and whether “privatization” of VA will become a reality as Veterans choose between VA and a Care in the Community (CITC) authorized provider, VA Telehealth options are becoming more popular for Veterans.

This is in part because, “Telehealth is critical to the future of VHA care for Veterans.” Telehealth allows veterans to receive quality and timely care— while living independently.

For a variety of ailments or needs, VA can authorize or issue specialized telecommunication technologies when the Veteran patient and practitioner are separated by geographical distance. In short, Telehealth equipment limits the need for the patient to travel to a VA facility for their appointment. With Telehealth, they can accomplish the same thing right in the comfort and privacy of their own home. Telehealth also focuses on disease prevention and lessening hospital admissions.

VA’s year-end numbers from FY-17 indicate more than 725,000 Veterans are already using VA Telehealth, amounting to more than 2.18-million “episodes of care.” Among these veterans is Air Force Veteran Richard O’Boyle, who is enrolled at Spokane’s Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center. Telehealth home technology automatically monitors his blood-sugar levels and reports them directly to his cell phone. Ultimately, his VA Nurse and Case Managers assist him with his diabetes.

“They know if I’m not eating right,” said O’Boyle, a former Nurse himself. “And if I don’t take care of myself, I’m not going to live.” For the past 2 and a half years, O’Boyle and his VA teams of Primary Care (PACT) and Telehealth nurses have kept diaries and metrics of his care while adhering to a diet and regular contact with each other.

“I can’t say I didn’t eat [high-sugar foods] because the numbers don’t lie,” said O’Boyle.

VA Telehealth Nurses Gordon Winters, Karen Saucier-Renner, and other nurses diagnosed, authorized and located the equipment needed for his care. O’Boyle was outfitted with a small device that is connected to his stomach and monitors his sugar levels and other vitals. Readings from the device are linked automatically to his smartphone, which then sends the data to his VA team. They can monitor the blood-sugar changes as they occur, allowing for immediate adjustments to food, medications, or treatment. “They push me hard, but it’s worth it,” said O’Boyle, who previously had several unexpected health scares that required paramedic help through 9-1-1. Fortunately, that is a thing of the past.

To qualify for Home Telehealth, Veterans must live in a stable housing situation and have a landline or cell phone. They must also be enrolled in VA health care for any one of the following diseases: congestive heart failure; chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD); diabetes; hypertension (high blood pressure); or obesity. Home Telehealth can also help Veteran patients struggling with PTSD, depression, or anxiety, when those ailments are secondary to the physical concerns of the patient.

Home Telehealth is also complimented by VA’s other Telehealth modalities, including Clinical Video Telehealth (CVT). CVT includes numerous clinical applications within VA Specialty and Primary Care. The 50 plus specialty areas in VA’s Telehealth menu of services include: Women’s Telehealth; TeleWound; TeleDentistry; TeleCardiology; TeleNeurology, and dozens more at www.telehealth.va.gov. To learn more about Home Telehealth offered at Mann-Grandstaff VAMC, please contact (509) 434-7763.