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VA Project Uses Telemedicine Tablets to Treat Veterans at Home

The VA hospital in San Diego is using telemedicine tablets to conduct weekly wound care visits with veterans. Officials say the project improves care management and outcomes and could become a national model.

Source: ThinkStock

By Eric Wicklund

- A tablet equipped with store-and-forward mHealth technology is helping Veterans’ Affairs doctors in San Diego improve clinical outcomes for veterans with chronic wounds.

It’s one of several mHealth and telehealth projects at VA hospitals around the country, including this week’s announcement from Medtronic of an expanded platform of telehealth offerings and multiple integrated diagnostic devices for veterans. The various programs and pilots are part of VA Secretary David Shulkin’s ongoing effort to bring healthcare out of those hospitals and deliver it directly to the veterans, no matter where they live.

“We’re removing geography as a barrier so that we can speed up access to veterans and really honor our commitment to them,” Shulkin said in August, when he unveiled his Anywhere to Anywhere VA Healthcare Initiative.

The pilot program at San Diego VA Medical Center allows VA nurses to visit the veteran in his or her home and monitor wound care on a weekly basis. Officials say the telemedicine platform improves care coordination and management, speeds up treatment and helps reduce chronic non-healing wound care treatment that can cost the nation more than $50 billion each year.

Each nurse has a tablet equipped with a high-definition digital camera, 3D sensors and mHealth software. Doctors at San Diego VA Medical Center can view images of the wound uploaded to the cloud by a visiting nurse, check measurements and other vital signs, track the progress of the wound over weeks and suggest changes in treatment, if needed.

“The really great thing about this is that in the past, doctors would have to visually estimate whether a wound has improved based on memory of a past image, which can sometimes be confusing when you also have to remember other patient images as well,” Dr. Kevin Broder, Director for the Wound Image Capture and Storage Innovation Project, said in a story provided by the VA. “This tablet provides recorded, accurate data to track progress.”

According to VA officials, in the past nurses would use digital cameras to take photographs of the wound, then organize those photographs with patient records before presenting them to the VA hospital. The telehealth platform automatically attaches the digital images to the correct patient and places that data in a secure repository for doctors.

“It’s inexpensive, costing less than $900 per unit,” Broder added “This is much cheaper than hulking large, expensive telemedicine carts around to do very similar functions but are harder to transport, harder to use to capture wound images and cost many tens of thousands of dollars each.”

Officials say the five-month pilot has proven successful in improving patient outcomes, and was expanded to the hospital’s clinical department two months ago. It’s now drawing interest from VA centers in Loma Linda, Calif., and Phoenix and Prescott, Ariz.

It’s also spawning ideas for other telehealth programs, such as dermatology, prosthetics, orthopedics, podiatry and even cancer detection and care.

“If implemented across the VA system, this pilot program has the potential to reduce a patient’s pain and suffering and save millions of dollars through quicker healing and better treatment strategies,” the VA said in its story.


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