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Alabama VA Replaces Mobile Health Units With Telehealth Centers

Telehealth centers at participating hospitals are replacing mobile health units in Alabama as state health officials and the VA look to improve access to healthcare for veterans.

Source: ThinkStock

By Eric Wicklund

- The Department of Veterans Affairs is replacing mobile health units in Alabama with dedicated telehealth centers in an effort to improve access to healthcare for veterans.

The VA has recently opened telehealth centers at Bryan W. Whitfield Memorial Hospital in Demopolis and at the North Mississippi Medical Center in Hamilton. Both are in response to an increase in the number of veterans living in the counties served by those hospitals.

The connected care programs are part of a larger effort by the VA to improve access to healthcare for veterans, no matter where they’re located. This outreach includes an mHealth app platform and the ‘Anywhere to Anywhere’ program, which enables VA-sanctioned healthcare providers to connect with veterans anywhere through telehealth for treatment.

In Alabama, home to four VA hospitals, three outpatient clinics and 12 community-based outpatient clinics, officials are finding that healthcare can be better delivered through a telemedicine clinic that offers a link to the nearest VA center.

In Demopolis, the newly opened clinic offers a connection to the Tuscaloosa VA Medical Center. Staffed by two registered nurses and a licensed practical nurse, the clinic is open, mostly by appointment, on Tuesdays (except the fourth Tuesday of the month) for primary and mental health services and blood draws. Virtual visits with VA doctors are available when needed, and patients are referred to the Tuscaloosa hospital when further care is necessary.

VA officials say the clinic allows veterans to wait for care inside a hospital, rather than in their car outside a mobile unit. It also gives veterans access to more services.

“We are excited to bring the services inside the hospital to better serve our veterans,” Assistant Chief Nurse Lisa Koontz told the Demopolis Times during a recent ribbon-cutting. “They do not have to travel to their primary care appointments or to their mental health appointments, and it opens up access for them meaning they can be seen here in their hometown.”

Alabama has been working for the past year to integrate its own growing telehealth and telemedicine platform with the VA’s network. Roughly two years ago, the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) Telehealth Program launched a collaboration with the Birmingham Veterans Affairs Medical Center and the Cullman County Health Department to improve connected health access for veterans.

“We’re looking at health departments to be single point of entry for a variety of services for all patients, such as counseling prior to a procedure, mental health services, genetic counseling, maternal fetal medicine, and pediatric neurology,” Michael Smith, the telehealth program’s director, said in a press release. “Patients shouldn’t have to travel a long distance for a routine appointment that can be just as successfully achieved via telehealth technology.”

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