Knoxville — Medical services offered by the VA Central Iowa Health Care System (VACIHCS) have expanded to include the use of telemedicine. Benefits include home access to medical services and less time on the road for veterans to meet with care providers.
VACIHCS Directory Judith Johnson-Mekota held the first of what she hopes to be several demonstrations of the technology and services available to veterans at the Knoxville Community Based Outpatient Clinic (CBOC) Thursday morning. The CBOC is located inside Building One on the Knoxville VA campus. When asked for a time frame on the new CBOC, Johnson-Mekota said she is hopeful that she can announce a contract award soon, but gave no specified time frame. A recent moratorium, barring the VA from entering into new leases, was lifted only recently.
Even without a different location, services at the CBOC have diversified. The CBOC treated 2,564 different veterans last year and provided over 25,000 appointments. Access to services remains a concern.
Home Telehealth Services provides a device, placed in a veterans home, with a data connection, that can be used to assist in the treatment of a variety of afflictions. The program is voluntary, and veterans will still be seen by doctors when necessary. Veterans are eligible for teh program if they suffer from heart problems, hypertension, weight issues as well as mental health disorders.
Pamela South offered a demonstration of the device. A veteran can turn it on and answer questions by pressing a button. Data is then securely transferred to the VA. South said this technology saves time and helps veterans avoid trips to the emergency room. Safety measures are in place and if a veteran does not respond at a scheduled time, a call is placed.
"I really like it," veteran John Rose said of the Home Telehealth program. Before having a machine installed in his home, he had been told that veterans would not like the machine. He does not understand why now.
"I think it's a real great thing," Rose said.
At the CBOC, equipment is in place which allows veterans to be treated by providers in different locations. For instance, cameras are available that can take a freeze frame image of a veteran's eye or skin. Specialists can examine the image and determine whether or not the patient should see a doctor in person from there.
"The equipment can actually see it better than your eyes," Knoxville telemedicine tech Ben Davitt said. All of the visual equipment utilized in this services at the VA is in high definition. The frames viewed by doctors reveal more detail than if the doctor was examining a patient's body with just his or her eye.
Though the VA is offering these services, in-person appointments are still available. Several reports have surfaced over the years regarding the VA's backlog and long waits to see a doctor. Johnson-Mekota said she is unaware of any studies to see how the telemedicine processes have affected these lists. The point of the telemedicine program is to provide the best patient care possible, she said.
Mental health services via telemedicine were questioned by a guest in attendance. According to the VA, veterans who have utilized the service have praised this program. Some have found it easier to open up over the telephone, instead of sitting across from someone. Veterans' support groups can also gather through these electronic video connections. Multiple VA sites can be connected for these groups simultaneously.
Johnson-Mekota told the Journal-Express that the VA will always need to provide human contact to the veterans it serves. The telemedicine system is not intended to overtake the VA's mission.
For more information on the different services provided, call these numbers:
Home Telehealth: 641-828-5060 or 800-816-5060
CBOC Telehealth Services: 641-828-5019 (x6427)
VA wants to be more open
Still relatively new to the VACIHCS, Johnson-Mekota said she is enjoying the job and learning more about this system. One of her goals is to reach out to the Knoxville community, find out what the needs are, and allow the VA to be involved.
Thursday's event was not a single meeting. It is part of a proposed series that she intends to offer to open the dialogue and create a more open line of communication between the VA and the community.
As for the rest of the campus, the Knoxville Veterans Alliance still has the option of entering into an enhanced use lease for the campus. The KVA has been unable to secure a subtenant to provide a revenue stream large enough to cover the KVA's costs of the lease with the federal government.
Marketing is ongoing.