To get cardiac care in person, 79-year-old Navy Veteran Jerry Roberts would have to drive about 300 miles from his home in Mercer, Wis., to the Milwaukee VA Medical Center. Instead, he travels about 30 miles to a VA clinic in Ironwood, Mich. There, a doctor in Milwaukee examines him remotely via the VA telecardiology program.
“I think it’s great that they came up with that,” Roberts said. “Otherwise, it’s a long, long ways away. I’d recommend it to anybody.”
The video-teleconferencing system connects a patient and nurse at a remote location with a doctor at the other end.
“Basically, I get an email from the nurse at whatever site, and I open up the software,” said Dr. Nicole Lohr, a Milwaukee VA cardiologist. “I put these headphones on and the nurse on the other end has a stethoscope that’s hooked up to the computer that then transmits breath sounds, heart sounds. You can do a fairly decent physical exam.”
“Keeping everything local”
The Milwaukee VA is expanding its reach as the VA telecardiology hub for a region that includes Wisconsin, northern Michigan and northern Illinois.
“For some people who have made a decision to live in very remote areas, they’re still allowed an opportunity that their choice of location isn’t going to hurt them physically, that they will get a good doctor and they will have access to health care,” Lohr said.
Lohr observed that Veterans who take advantage of the telecardiology option enjoy the experience.
“I crack the same jokes whether I’m in the office or not. So, detachment through technology is not really a barrier.”
Lohr said that in a sense, telecardiology lets the doctor make house calls once again. “We’re basically saying that where the doctor came to your house in the past, it’s now cool to go back to that kind of thinking. It’s personal, but in a different way. It’s using technology to get back to keeping everything local, and I just find that appealing.”
Author Jim Hoehn and photographer Benjamin Slane are public relations officers with the Milwaukee VA Medical Center’s Office of Public Affairs.