This morning a friend told me about a 60-year-old man who died suddenly of heart failure. What was interesting about his story is that he had a history of heart problems, and in the weeks leading up to his death he had told some friends about symptoms he was experiencing, but he never told the person who really needed to know: his doctor. A simple telephone call might have saved his life.
It left me wondering why he didn’t make the call. Could it be that he didn’t want to deal with the inconvenience of driving out to see a doctor (for what he maybe thought were minor symptoms)? For some people, getting to the doctor is more than just an inconvenience, involving many hours of driving to see a specialist or even a primary care physician. This lack of accessibility to care is especially detrimental to patients with chronic conditions.
Telehealth services are designed to increase accessibility to care, and one federal agency is realizing the benefits. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) leads the way in telemedicine, offering three levels of telehealth services to its veterans:
- General (real-time) telehealth, also known as care coordination/general telehealth (CCGT), allows VA patients to have “virtual visits” with specialists and other health care providers from the convenience of a local VA clinic.
- Home telehealth, also known as care coordination/home telehealth (CCHT), is particularly useful for managing patients with chronic conditions. A variety of devices can be used to remotely monitor a patient’s symptoms and vital signs, and care coordinators can act accordingly.
- Store-and-forward uses telehealth technology to capture clinical information (e.g., images, video, audio or X-rays) and forward it to another clinical site for evaluation.
Though there are still a number of obstacles to overcome before telehealth services can be integrated into the private health sector, the VA telehealth program offers a good model. This YouTube video demonstrates how the VA telehealth program is helping to improve access to care for veterans.