VA cuts ER visits, admissions with remote care coordination

The Department of Veterans Affairs continues to ramp up its use of telehealth. "It's all about accessibility and reaching as many veterans as possible," Ron Sandreth, operations manager for the community and rural health program at the VA hospital in Clarksburg, W. Va., tells the Charleston (W. Va.) Gazette.

Clarksburg currently offers remote services for dermatology, mental health, pathology, retinal exams and care coordination, and 95 percent of patients receiving telehealth from that hospital live in rural areas. Particularly for care coordination, the VA is increasingly turning to home monitoring.

Registered nurse William H.D. Shelton remotely checks blood pressure, weight and blood sugar for more than 125 patients a day. The patients--suffering from diabetes, congestive heart failure, pulmonary disease or hypertension, and located in West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Ohio--send readings from a device connected to a wired or cellular phone. Whenever there's an abnormal reading, Shelton calls the patient to inquire about symptoms, such as a fever or swollen feet, then emails a physician, who can prescribe medicine and have the drugs mailed out right away. In more urgent cases, patients are instructed to go to the nearest hospital.

"We are healthcare coordinators," Shelton explains. "We not only help with the specific diseases, but with a patient's entire healthcare picture, from the sniffles to help getting a hold of the pharmacy. What you get are 365 [clinic] visits a year for absolutely free." The results speak for themselves: program participants have seen total hospitalization cut from 108 to 42 days, and ER visits among the group have fallen from 190 to 150, the Gazette reports.

For further details:
- view this Charleston Gazette story