Adapt and overcome. When you’re in the military, that mantra is drilled into you from day one of training. In war and peace, the challenges in uniform are no excuse for meeting mission. Troops must innovate and excel.
That’s also the mindset behind a technology revolution inside VA. As ultra-modern health care processes and solutions have been created, we’ve been at the forefront of early adoption, from digitized health records to mobile apps revolutionizing personalized health care. It’s no wonder every VA medical center was recently named to the 2013 list of most wired hospitals and directors of the Veterans Health Administration’s Connected Health program have been nationally recognized and credited with “pushing VA past the private sector in telehealth.”
Historically, constraints to overcome revolve around time, distance, and money. About 36 percent of Veterans live in rural areas, which makes VA appointments difficult, time-consuming, and in some cases, expensive. Others may be too busy or ill to make it to hospitals. Increasingly, the solution for these challenges comes in the form of telemedicine.
Telemedicine is a mode of care that uses technology to provide a high level of care from a remote location. Instead of replacing care, it changes the location of services. In some areas, like rural Alaska, clinics have been established with sophisticated computer systems that can deploy stethoscopes, ultrasound machines and blood pressure cuffs.
When even getting to a clinic can be tough due to long distances or extreme geography, telemedicine stations can be set up in a Veteran’s home. In an NPR segment, the sister of Howard Lincoln, a Korean War Vet, explains how his blood pressure is recorded every morning and sent to his VA health record electronically. The system is a lifeline for Lincoln, who manages his health closely after two strokes.
Telemedicine technology has also been used to boost PTSD counseling for those not able or willing to attend sessions in person. Counseling can be a frequent, lifelong mode of care, and the miles can start to add up for folks who drive to VA hospitals.
Reimbursement for gas and time spent waiting is always a topic of discussion when I sit in VA waiting rooms myself, so telemedicine appointments can greatly impact those who have regular appointments. More than 800,000 miles of travel have been saved since the inception of telemedicine—that’s about 300 coast-to-coast drives.
The use of technology in medicine has also enhanced the way Veterans receive their health information and interact with their doctors. MyhealtheVet helps patients track their health data, lab work, appointments, and prescriptions. Instead of calling and leaving a message for their primary care physicians, patients can email their doctors about any of their health concerns. It’s a tool I use myself, and the ease of its utility has made me more conscious of the things I should discuss with my doctor.
But this is just the beginning of the technological revolution. Today at the National Press Club, I joined Chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Bernie Sanders and VA Under Secretary for Health Dr. Robert Petzel to demonstrate how far we’ve come, and where we’re going when it comes to the cutting edge of medical treatment. My fellow Veterans deserve the best and most modern treatment, and we’ll continue to deliver it.
Dr. Tommy Sowers is the Assistant Secretary for Public and Intergovernmental Affairs at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.