‘Tele-health’ bridges gap between veteran and doctor

Online video technology is providing modern ways to provide health care to Veterans. Daniel Ramirez, Nurse Manager for TeleHealth, demonstrated how they are able to connect with other health providers in the system. Using this method, they are able to use cameras to send photo stills as well as video of body areas to be treated and even listen to the heart beat of the person being examined. (Maricela Rodriguez/Valley Morning Star)

HARLINGEN — Veterans no longer have to drag themselves to an office or clinic when they’re ailing.

Now, thanks to the VA Video Connect/Tele-Health System, a veteran wishing to see the doctor can do so from a computer, a tablet or … a phone.

A phone?

Sure, with the VA Video Connect you can go anywhere to see your doctor. You can even see your doctor while sitting at McDonald’s or Starbucks, said Daniel Ramirez, nursing manager for Tele-health.

“Tele-health is really bridging the gap between the health care system and the veterans in their homes,” Ramirez said during a presentation Thursday at the Veterans Administration specialty clinic in Harlingen.

“We’re bringing the provider to the home so we’re doing face to face encounters via tele-health services,” he said. “The provider or nurse on this end is able to communicate, speak to the veteran to address any issues or concerns that they have.”

At that point, if providers feel the patient should go to the clinic, appointments can be made.

“We can schedule an appointment with veterans while they are at their homes,” Ramirez said. “We have our scheduling staff who are able to send an email to the veteran so they in turn click that email and open it up.”

This brings up the importance of veterans having a personal email they can access from their devices.

“On that email they’ll get a time when that appointment is going to take place,” he said. “Veterans don’t need to come in to that appointment.”

That’s right. The appointment can also take place via video connect with the provider, which could be a physician, a nurse practitioner, a physicians assistant, registered nurse, or a respiratory therapist. That provider, whoever it might be, will also receive an email with the appointment.

This way, provider and veteran can meet directly via Tele-health in the comfort of the veteran’s home, or in the car, the coffee shop or the mall.

“This is how we conduct a VA Video Connect appointment,” Ramirez said as he pulled up to a computer screen. He began moving the cursor across the screen where he expected someone to appear momentarily.

“We are able to send text messages if needed,” he said. “If there’s some information that I need to show them…” He learned toward the screen and moved the cursor. “I click here and I share a screen.”

And of course doctor’s appointments entail the necessary history of medications, lab work, and past ills, which are immediately available during the tele-health session.

“The veteran on their phone or tablet is able to see what I’m sharing on my screen, whether it be some medication instruction, going over labs,” Ramirez said. “A veteran is able to see that, we can have a dialogue, they can ask questions and we can ask questions.”

Ramirez said the VA is pushing hard for the implementation of the program, which has only been in place a couple of years. However, it could be said the foundation of that service has been in place for more than 15 years with My HealtheVet.

This online program allows veterans to schedule appointments online, refill prescriptions, view their health records and send secure messages. All they have to do is log in, register with a simple user name and password, and they can see their whole medical history — again on a computer, tablet or phone.

Elliott Moore, My HealtheVet coordinator, said a registration with the program puts the information right into the veteran’s hands.

“They have all the information that they need to get through to our doctors and all the providers, either primary care or specialty care,” Moore said. “Our veterans, using this program, never have to walk in to the clinic. The veterans will never run out of medications. Using My HealtheVet they can renew, refill or send messages to their doctors. It saves the veterans lots of time driving all the way to the facilities.”