Teleheath provides expanded services to local veterans

Amber Gillenwater

April 2, 2014

GALLIPOLIS – “Because of the telehealth, basically, we can provide just about anything that the main hospital can or Chillicothe can,” Eric Gee, RN, of the Gallipolis VA clinic stated. “That monitor is basically the hospital reaching out because just about every physician, every pharmacist, every social worker [at the Huntington VA Medical Center] has this in their office. Whatever you can have done in Huntington, we can play you through right here on this TV and you can see whoever you want to see.”

During an interview on Monday afternoon at the Gallipolis VA clinic, Gee, along with Deborah Brammer, Public Affairs officer with the Huntington VA Medical Center, discussed the telehealth services at the local clinic with telehealth coordinator Rhonda Mills, who spoke from her office in Huntington via the telehealth technology at the clinic.

Telehealth, a technology that, according to Mills, has been available to physicians for many years, has recently taken off at the Gallipolis facility, due to an expanded area at the clinic, located at 323 Upper River Road behind the Super 8 Motel, designed specially for telehealth conferencing, as well as the addition of new educational classes and the ability of local patients to see specialty physicians closer to home.

“It’s a way to have patients get their care closer to where they live at our community-based clinics,” Mills stated.

Telehealth allows local veterans to see, hear and speak with their health care provider on a large television screen located at the clinic, and also allows the physician to physically interact with the patient through various adaptations to the equipment and help of local nurses.

“One of the best features is our stethoscope. They have the patient piece there that they can place on the patient’s chest or their back and listen to the heart, and the providers here have earphones, so they would be sitting here like me on the same kind of device I am and the patient would be able to see the provider and the provider would have ear-sets and would be able to hear the patient’s lung and heart sounds,” Mills said. “They also have an otoscope so that they are able to look in the patient’s ears or throat or nose.”

In addition to being able to visit with specialists in various fields, including neurology, cardiology, endocrinology and mental health providers, local veterans also have the opportunity to attend various educational classes via the telehealth technology, including classes on lipid management and diabetes management.

Mills reported that during the diabetic education conferences, veterans can meet with a dietitian, clinic pharmacist and a nurse who can help patients better manage their disease.

Another program popular among the patients at the VA clinic is the medical center MOVE (Management Obesity in Veterans Everywhere) group that meets weekly via telehealth.

Gee reported that, in addition to the many educational and services that can be provided to local veterans through telehealth, the reason many veterans enjoy utilizing the teleheath conferencing is that it allows them to access services closer to home.

“From here to the main hospital, it’s 55 miles one way. So, we have a lot of veterans like from New Haven, which is another 25 miles up the road. They can come here to do any specialty appoints with their doctors. We have gentlemen who come in to see their diabetic doctor, we have gentlemen come in to see neurology,” Gee said. “A lot these guys, whether it be financial or transportation issues who wouldn’t be able to travel to Huntington, can come here and we can get their doctors’ appointments done. That’s one of the main reasons we have done this, so we would be able to reach out into the rural population to bring health care closer to home.”

Gee further reported that a large draw for the program is the ability of local veterans to find access to mental health care at the local clinic through telehealth.

“They really enjoy the mental health aspect because this gives access to people who might otherwise not have the means to travel to Huntington three times a week for a mental health appointment,” he said. “If we have someone who comes into our clinic in crisis, they can see someone immediately. So, that’s a big thing for us also.”

While many veterans may hesitate to use the new technology and may prefer to see a doctor in person, Gee said the majority of veterans who try the telehealth continue to use the optional service.

“What we tell people, if you like the more personable appointment, that is fine, we can try this first. I’d say that 90 percent of the guys like this because of the travel distance and the travel time. You always have a few of the veterans who would rather sit in the doctor’s office, but we encourage them to try this first and we tell them about the successes we’ve had with this program,” Gee said.

Brammer reported that the Huntington VA Medical Center is promoting this specific aspect of their services at their local clinics as it helps them reach their goal of providing more services to local veterans.

“One of the biggest priorities for the medical center is to make sure the patients have good access to the services that they need,” Brammer said. “So, this is helping us to meet their needs better, and it’s more convenient for them, not having to travel so far.”

Brammer said as enrollment continues to increase at the local VA clinic, more services will be available to local veterans.

“The more we grow, we’ll just keeping looking at it and when we get to where we can do more, we will do more,” Brammer said. “That’s our goal. It’s a priority for us to keep going.”

Brammer added that, locally the clinic continues to grow, and she hopes additional veterans in the area who may not be aware of the clinic or its services, will stop by or call to find out if they are eligible for health care.

“To those veterans who may not have enrolled for care, we encourage them to come in and just see if they are eligible. If they are eligible, we would be glad to sign them up,” Brammer said.

The Gallipolis VA clinic is open on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday from 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. For further information on their services, including telehealth conferencing, call (740) 446-3934.