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Telehealth helps CalVet connect veterans to doctors

Steven Wilson, Information Officer, CalVet

Written by: Steven Wilson

In medical fields throughout the world, doctors are able to see more patients and treat them more efficiently thanks to on-screen appointments, interactive patient education and video engagement via a program known as telehealth.

Recently, the California Department of Veterans Affairs (CalVet) brought this approach to three of its veterans homes in Yountville, Barstow and Redding. At these homes, neurology and mental health patients are able to forego bus rides to far-away clinics and instead see their doctors through a telehealth system, just steps from their rooms in CalVet’s long-term care facilities.

A nurse at the veterans home helps connect the resident through a camera and transaction software to facilitate the appointment. On the other end is a doctor with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

Since beginning as a pilot in May 2015, the veterans homes and the VA have held approximately 100 telehealth appointments. Prior to the program’s implementation, these residents traveled to VA clinics that often are two or more hours away. Each patient was required to wait until the conclusion of all group members’ appointments, making the trips all-day events.

By CalVet’s calculation, use of the system has saved more than 800 hours for patients in driving time and wait time.

“I would say 95 percent of the visits are highly satisfactory for residents,” said Isa Baca, CalVet’s Director of Admissions and manager of the telehealth implementation efforts. “They don’t want to travel two hours, sit in a waiting room all day, only for a 10 minute visit. They want to have a face-to-face visit with a nurse and see their doctor in a timely matter, and this technology is allowing that to happen.”

CalVet and the VA originally introduced the program in Yountville but have since expanded it to Barstow and Redding. The Redding program launched in June of this year, and residents have praised its time-saving capabilities.

The program has targeted residents who have movement disorders, Parkinson’s disease, mental health needs, or neurological deficiencies. For these and other major specialty medical services, Redding residents used to travel to the VA clinic in Sacramento or Martinez, Yountville residents would go to San Francisco, and Barstow residents would travel to Loma Linda.

CalVet plans to expand its telehealth program to more of its eight state-certified veteran care facilities, beginning in August with the Fresno Veterans Home. The remaining CalVet Homes are in Chula Vista, Lancaster, Ventura and West Los Angeles.

“Telehealth is an option for veterans – it’s not a requirement,” Baca added. “Residents who prefer to visit their doctors in person can certainly do so. This is simply a convenience for some of them.”

The services provided through this approach are specialty care disciplines the VA provides to residents of CalVet’s numerous veterans homes with or without the technology. Because this care already is part of the partnership between the VA and CalVet, neither the veterans homes nor their residents incur additional visit-related charges. Implementation costs for CalVet include cameras and speakers, but have amounted to just a few hundred dollars at each location.

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