For Veterans living in the North Dakota Veterans Home in Lisbon, North Dakota, accessing services at the Fargo VA Medical Center can be challenging. Due to the extremes of North Dakota’s winter weather, the 75-mile trip from Lisbon to Fargo can be a hazardous one. To ensure Veterans have proper access to care, the North Dakota Veterans Home partnered with the Fargo VA Medical Center to provide telehealth services to Veterans living at the home as well as within the surrounding communities. The result has been a dramatic increase in the availability and ease in which these rural Veterans can access and schedule health care services.
Nearly two years ago, an administrator working at the North Dakota Veterans Home noticed Veterans were spending hours, sometimes an entire day, commuting to the VAMC in Fargo. With this being the closest place to receive health care services, Veterans from the North Dakota Veterans Home would board a bus in the morning and wait throughout the day for not only their appointment, but all others to finish, before boarding the bus for the trip home. Knowing there must be a solution to this, the North Dakota Veterans Home sought a way to improve the capability of residents’ access to health care services. Working in concert with the Office for Rural Health, the Veterans Home signed a memorandum of understanding with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to launch telehealth services, leveraging the VA network, and supporting the Joint Business Plan outlined through a partnership between the Office of Information Technology and the Veterans Health Administration. As a result, residents are now able to access audiology, mental health, and dermatology services directly from the North Dakota Veterans Home. Due to the success and popularity of these initial offerings, plans are being made to expand these services to other specialties.
Katie Potts, a licensed practical nurse and VA employee working directly with Veterans using the services, said, “many more [Veterans] are getting their services through telehealth” since the launch. She also stated that telehealth has been especially beneficial for patients receiving mental health services, and many patients have shown a preference for virtual visits conducted in comfortable surroundings.
Linda, a Veteran and resident of the North Dakota Veterans Home, has been utilizing telehealth for mental health services for the past seven months. Before using telehealth services, Linda stated she often spent much of her day going to and from the VAMC and waiting for other Veterans to complete their appointments. Now Linda completes her appointments in less than an hour. She videoconferences directly to her long-time physician in Fargo, allowing her to have the personal touch of a face-to-face interaction with the convenience of not leaving her home. When asked how telehealth compared to traditional visits, Linda stated that she loves the convenience telehealth provides, and the quality of care is the same as a traditional visit.
As the service offerings continue to expand, telehealth services will be available to an increasing number of Veterans within the community. The combination of innovation and technology, as orchestrated in this successful initiative by OIT’s Account Management Office, can truly transform the landscape of health care for rural Veteran populations.
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