The new veterans clinic in St. James, Mo. will be offering a unique service in their ongoing efforts to address the needs of local veterans. Patients will be able to connect with a physician via video conference, to receive local care that would normally require them to travel a great distance.
Patients can sit alongside a trained staff member as they connect to an office in Columbia Mo. where a physician will consult with them. Twinned televisions mounted with cameras connect the patient and physician as they discuss the individual’s unique needs. Apart from the screen, there is no difference in this appointment than a regular consultation. There are tools available, such as a special stethoscope that transmits information from the patient to the doctor.
“This is particularly advantageous, according to Dr. Steven Gaither of Columbia Mo., for follow-up visits with regular patients. Veterans won’t need to spend the time or money to travel simply for a brief consultation.” While there is some reimbursement currently available for travel, not every veteran qualifies and it is not always complete. By implementing this technology at a local level, the level of regular consultations and follow-ups is expected to rise.
Granted, some instances will still require an in-person approach, where a doctor and patient can be in the same room together. However the telehealth program will still aid this process by making it easier for appointments to be scheduled. If a patient is in the middle of a televised conference and an immediate concern is raised, an appointment can be made on the spot to allow the patient quicker access to the required care.
There is also potential for new capabilities to be added as the technology and staff expands. For example there is already the ability to implement a transmitted dermatology program, using high-resolution images. The St. James clinic recently posted the availability of new telehealth staff positions. The applicants for the staff will be trained medical professionals, rather than simply tech experts, who will receive the specialized training required for the telehealth program. Should a patient experience a medical emergency during the conference, the on-hand staff will be able to provide care through practiced procedures.
The telehealth service will not incur any additional costs to the veterans, and will be covered under the basic veteran’s health care service. If a veteran is not comfortable speaking with a physician over video conference, it is not a requirement. Matthew Freeman stressed the telehealth program is “not a situation of one or the other, but is an additional tool for the veterans.” Freeman and the rest of the veteran’s clinic team is excited to see the help that can be expanded going forward.