As months-long appointment backlogs continue to plague Veterans Administration clinics across the country, local representatives are testing new technology to ease the wait: so-called telemedicine, which would allow doctors to connect with patients despite the distance between them.
The House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Health hosted an open session on Tuesday, Aug. 9, in Camarillo titled “Technology and Treatment: Telemedicine in the VA Healthcare System” featuring a panel of industry experts and veterans. Congresswoman Julia Brownley, D-Westlake Village, sits on the subcommittee and hosted the session.
On the panel sat U.S. Navy veteran Zachary Walker, who served from 1975 to 1979. Walker said that he turned to telemedicine “not as an option, but as a last resort” after waiting two months for an appointment at the Oxnard clinic only to discover that it had been canceled. The only option, it seemed, was to wait for another appointment in two more months’ time. Finally, after contacting a VA representative, he was given the option to use telemedicine.
“Initially, I was reluctant because being seen by a doctor through a monitor was counterproductive to any medical experience I have had in the past,” said Walker during the open session, but with no other choice, he accepted. Telemedicine requires a visit to a local, federally owned clinic. It was there that Walker met his doctor, a woman who Walker described as “well prepared.”
“I had a great experience with telemedicine,” said Walker. “My appointment wait time was reduced from the normal two months to one week.”
There are three types of telehealth accessible via the VA: Clinical Video Telehealth, utilizing real-time video conferencing; VA Video Connect, currently in field testing, which allows veterans to use smartphones, tablets or computers, which can be used anywhere, including in the patient’s private home to conference with a medical professional; and Store-and-Forward Telehealth, which collects information such as photographs, sounds and videos that are later assessed for clinical evaluation.
These types of telehealth can be used to assess both mental and physical issues.
Ojai-based C3O Telemedicine physician founder and CEO Herb Rogove called the VA’s telemedicine model “both exemplary and successful,” pointing out that in the last year 12 percent of all veterans — 677,000 out of over 9 million — used either real-time telehealth, in-home telehealth care, or in-store telemedicine, with care ranging through “ICU, primary care, outpatient kiosks, sleep apnea and behavioral health.”
For Rogove, the VA’s success provides an opportunity for the private sector not to only meet the current physician shortage, but also to push for national medical license.
Kevin Galpin, M.D., acting executive director for Telehealth Veterans Health Administration Department of Veterans Affairs, said that the VA is “working to rebuild trust with veterans and the American people.” Since 2002, he says, over 2 million veterans have accessed VA care through telehealth services. He says that telehealth care “is now considered mission critical for effectively delivering quality health care to veterans.”
Congresswoman Brownley says that telehealth can assist Ventura County veterans from having to make trips to west Los Angeles for specialty visits.
“It’s like having another doctor on board in some sense,” said Brownley. “People come in for primary care, people come in to follow up on a particular health issue, and all of their blood tests can all be collected electronically and transmitted to the doctor on the other side of the screen.”