Sunday, May 2, 2010

Telehealth Helping Veterans

The Veterans Administration’s telehealth program uses video conferencing technology to help veterans meeting at their local medical center or at an outpatient clinic deal with mental health issues. Veterans can discuss anything on their mind during group time and their psychiatrist is able to join them via a web camera and video screen.

For example, the veterans in Montana are using technology to help them receive treatment for mental issues. The state has a large telehealth program for veterans and is part of the VA’s Rocky Mountain Network. The Network spans not only Montana, but also Wisconsin, Colorado, and Utah. The state of Montana happens to be one of the largest states in the U.S. with many of the residents located in rural areas.

Also the state has a limited amount of interstate highways plus the mountainous terrain makes getting from one town to another a time consuming journey. “Some veterans have to drive four to five hours to get to a mental health clinician,” said Dr. Rosa Merino, a Psychiatrist at the Fort Harrison VA Medical Center in Montana.

Helping veterans in the most rural parts of the state with mental issues now only requires a one to two hour drive. The VA is working to decrease that distance even more. Currently there are 13 VA clinics in Montana that use telemental health and there are plans for the VA to open two more telehealth facilities later this year complete with rooms set up with technology to help veterans communicate with mental health professionals.

Dr. Merino continued to say “Although telemental services are available, veterans are given a choice if they would prefer to meet their therapist in person. Some veterans are ill at ease with the thought of a camera watching them, but when it comes to using telehealth versus driving across the state, most will choose telehealth”.

More than 5,000 veterans made use of telemental health services as reported in 2009. “It’s exciting to see where telemental healthcare is going,” said Jeff Lowe, Special Projects Manager for the Office of Telehealth. Last quarter, 3,200 veterans used the service and we plan to see more usage up and coming.”