The lasers scanned across the large wound in the heel of the foot and soon its exact dimensions popped up in a line down the right hand side of the screen. This and other technologies on display Monday are how the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is using telemedicine and interactive devices to try and improve care and access to care for patients.
The Telehealth Education Delivered mobile unit stopped by the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center in Augusta to show off telemedicine technology that the national VA is using to reach out to provide greater access, particularly through its 700 outpatient clinics. The Augusta VA has seen 2,500 telehealth visits in the last year, primarily through its community clinics in Athens, Aiken and Statesboro, said April Harris, facility telehealth coordinator. And it is looking to do more with what it calls clinical video telehealth, she said.
“We’re really looking to expand in our (video visits) into the home where veterans do not have to travel, do not have to come in, where it is more convenient, patient- and family-centered for the veteran,” Harris said. The provider back at the medical center has a camera and the VA provides patients with a tablet device to create the video link, she sad.
“Now it is more convenient because we are able to send a device into the home,” Harris said.
It is used mostly for primary care, mental health and recently added speech pathology while a clinical pharmacist near Atlanta is now helping patients at the Statesboro clinic manage medications directly from her home, she said. In a few months, patients who can’t make it to an appointment might be emailed a link where they can connect with a provider through a secure video link, Harris said.
The use of the technology has changed in just the last two years, said Leslie Fernyhough, a telehealth education specialist with Iron Bow Technologies, which take the unit around to different VAs every day. Many VAs have now started to adopt a new wound care camera that uses lasers to help map out the dimensions of the chronic wound.
“We’ve been measuring wounds the same way for centuries” which was by hand with estimates on depth and volume, Fernyhough said. “Volume has always been an issue.” The new camera provides not only accurate but consistent measures of the wound that can be tracked over time to gauge progress, she said. The camera can attach to a laptop, which makes it portable and more convenient, Fernyhough said.
“You could take it from room to room, you could send a home health nurse out to a patient’s home,” she said. That nurse could then videoconference with a wound care nurse back at the medical center, Fernyhough said.
“Now you’ve got that expertise right there in the patient’s home and they could give specific treatment instructions to that home health nurse,” she said. The camera has an interesting origin, Fernyhough said.
“The technology that it uses was developed in New Zealand when they were making ‘The Lord of the Rings’ movies,’ she said. “It took that kind of creative genius to come up with the idea.”
Other fields like hearing and hearing testing are an important telehealth area for the VA, Fernyhough said.
“There are so many hearing aids, there is so much audiology done in the VA,” she said, and much of it can be done remotely through telehealth.
The technology can also be used to check on patients after a procedure. VA patient Robert Thompson of Augusta said he has not yet signed up for telehealth but is considering it and actually thinks it should have come sooner.
“We should have had this process a long time ago to save time and money,” he said. Thompson recently had stents placed in his heart and he would like to use telehealth to find out more about his condition.
Staff writer Nefeteria Brewster contributed to this article
Reach Tom Corwin at (706) 823-3213