Washington, DC - From the comfort of his home in Gainesville, Virginia, Avery Brunson, a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom, takes his blood pressure, pulse, and other health measurements and sends them to the VA Medical Center in Washington, DC (DCVAMC).
And he is not the only one. Over four hundred military veterans enrolled in the Medical Center’s Care Coordination Home Telehealth Program (CCHT) electronically transmit this vital health information to their assigned monitor nurse either daily or, at a minimum, three times a week.
Across the country, more than 30,000 veterans are connected to their providers through the use of home telehealth devices - saving them long commutes and saving appointment slots for other needy veterans. Plus, they get daily "electronic house calls" from their providers.
"It's a wonderful program," says Brunson. "I have to drive 2 ½ hours one-way to the hospital. Obviously, anything that can cut out the number of times I have to make this journey is beneficial."
The telehealth devices use modem technology to transmit data directly to the patient’s electronic health records at the VA Medical Center. The information is checked frequently by a "monitor nurse". This nurse is dedicated to the patient’s care, providing individualized case management.
In addition to reviewing the health information, the nurse schedules appointments when needed, makes appropriate consults to Specialty Care clinics, assists in getting medical supplies and medication, and provides education.
For Brunson, 47, and his fellow vets, who often find it confusing and time-consuming to manage their complex, chronic conditions, these "electronic house calls" are not just convenient, they can be lifesavers.
Clinical outcomes indicate patients using telehealth technology maintain their blood pressures and weights in a healthy range and keep their blood sugar levels in check. Generally, patients in the CCHT program are healthier and better educated than others with similar chronic health conditions. And, they are empowered to take charge of their health.
The program also reduces emergency room visits, unscheduled clinic appointments and inpatient stays - saving valuable hospital resources.
In September 2002, the Washington DC VA Medical Center piloted telehealth research with a small group of patients. Based upon its success and that of three other hospitals in the system that joined the testing, the program was rolled out to VA Medical Centers nationwide in 2004.
Not all patients are eligible for this program. Patients with congestive heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or uncontrolled diabetes or hypertension are among the best candidates for this program - as they need frequent monitoring.
The monitoring equipment is set-up in patient homes by trained technicians and transmits information about each patient over standard telephone lines. When changes suggesting potential health risks, such as significant weight gain or increase in blood pressure or blood sugars are recorded, the nurses immediately take action to provide appropriate treatment. Often, this can be done without an office visit. Nurses coordinate with doctors who can make changes in prescriptions and order corrective action through electronic health records.
"Anytime there’s a potential health problem, indicated by the equipment, my care team - Donna Y. King and Angie Fleming - call to find out what's wrong," reports Mr. Brunson.
Susan Jackson, CCHT program director, says "Patients rave about the program, especially the personal attention they get from their monitor nurses. Patient satisfaction rates for the program are about 90 percent".
Veterans enrolled at the VA Medical Center who have an interest in participating in the program should contact Susan Jackson at 202-745-2250 to determine if they are eligible and suitable to participate in this program.