Sunday, December 19, 2010

VISN 6 Advancing Telehealth

The Veterans Health Administration’s VISN 6 has initiated a telehealth program called “Tele-Move” to provide support in weight loss and help to maintain healthy living for veterans. While the program is available for both men and women, “Tele-Move” targets women that are pre-diabetic and have started to have health problems.

According to Mary Foster, the VISN Telehealth Director and Dr. Katherine Gianola, Health Informatics and Telehealth Chief at Richmond, the program is designed to work with veterans with a body mass index greater than 30 who want help managing their weight.

The program provides ongoing communication and support to provide guidance for healthy lifestyle changes regarding physical activity, healthy eating, and necessary behavioral changes. The program helps to identify issues that might affect weight management. It also provides encouragement through ongoing contacts to help work towards increased veteran satisfaction. Studies show the weekly average weight loss for the veterans is one-half to two pounds.

Also, the VISN is using telehealth to treat a variety of other health issues ranging from high blood pressure, polytrauma, severe cases of spinal cord injuries, tobacco cessation, substance abuse, schizophrenia, bipolar disorders, PTSD, and traumatic brain injuries.

Telehealth is also assisting with chronic disease management as in the case of congestive heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, diabetes, and other health issues requiring a high need for monitoring. In addition, teleretinal imaging, the most robust telehealth program in VISN 6 is expanding to all the VISN’s CBOCs in 2011.

One of the newest uses for telehealth is the development of the tele-audiology program recently initiated in the VISN. The program is now being piloted between the Durham VAMC and the Greenville CBOC. The goal is to provide audiometric assessment and hearing aid fitting and adjustment for patients at the Greenville Clinic through a computer connection to a specialist at Durham.

Foster is excited about the increased funding the telehealth program is due to receive as it will make it possible for more veterans especially in rural and remote areas to receive convenient care. Additionally, the VISN will now be able to increase the staffing of telehealth coordinators at seven medical centers in 2011 and enable 1,050 new patients to be treated. There are even more plans for telehealth capability to increase as the program completes the installation of a system with capacity to handle cell phone transmission securely.