Telemedicine effective for PTSD treatment of rural veterans

Telemedicine-based collaborative care was shown to be an effective means for providing psychotherapy care to veterans in rural areas suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, according to research published this week in JAMA Psychiatry.

The researchers, led by John Fortney, Ph.D. of the University of Washington, Seattle, examined 265 veterans from 11 Veterans Health Administration community-based outpatient clinics over nearly two years, from November 2009 through September 2011. Half of the patients (133) received telemedicine treatment--which included telephone and interactive video consults--while 132 patients received usual care. Feedback and treatment recommendations for those receiving care via telemedicine were given to providers at the clinics through electronic health records.

When following up with patients a year after the conclusion of the study, the authors found that 73 of the 133 patients treated via telemedicine had received cognitive processing therapy. PTSD severity also had subsided for patients in the telemedicine program.

More than 500,000 military veterans enrolled in the VHA were diagnosed with PTSD in 2012, according to the study's authors.

"Despite its limitations, this trial introduces a promising model for managing PTSD in a treatment-resistant population," they said in a statement. "Findings suggest that telemedicine-based collaborative care can successfully engage this population in evidence-based psychotherapy for PTSD, thereby improving clinical outcomes."

In fiscal year 2014, the VA says it provided remote care to more than 690,000 veterans. About 55 percent of those veterans live in rural areas with limited access to VA facilities, according to the agency.

"A brick-and-mortar facility is not the only option for healthcare," VA Secretary Robert A. McDonald said in an announcement touting that figure last month. "We are exploring how we can more efficiently and effectively deliver healthcare services to better serve our veterans and improve their lives. Telehealth is one of those areas we have identified for growth."

Annual healthcare costs for veterans treated via telehealth between 2009 and 2012 fell 4 percent one year after starting use of the programs, VA officials reported last June.

To learn more:
- here's the study's abstract
- read the announcement