Virtual health integrated at Iowa Veterans Home

Telehealth makes specialists more accessible and efficient for veterans

T-R PHOTO BY MIKE BURVEE The Iowa Veterans Home and Iowa Veterans Association have teamed up to bring virtual health to their residents. Whitney Anderson joined the IVH staff in May as the Telehealth Technician. Residents simply make their way down to Anderson’s office to conduct a scheduled appointment with their provider. The telehealth system is saving both time and money for IVH and is funded by the Office of Rural Health.

Residents at the Iowa Veterans Home in Marshalltown can now begin to see their care providers without leaving the facility. The decision began late last year when the Office of Rural Health put out a grant request for IVH, being granted funds for staffing and equipment.

No cost came to the Des Moines VA or IVH.

Whitney Anderson was brought onto the staff in May as the Telehealth technician.

“Whitney is essentially the hands of the provider,” said Des Moines VA Nurse Manager Pamela South. “She’s able to demonstrate lung sounds, a heartbeat, throat observations, etc.”

The big positive for the veterans at the home is not having to travel to see their provider anymore. The health system works similar to how Skype operates by doing a video chat with their specialist.

Currently Anderson has been reaching out to the more than 500 veterans and seeing when they have an upcoming appointment.

“We’ve already made a few pre-urology appointments,” said Telehealth Coordinator Kirsten Johnson. “We’ve also started to use tele-wound, part of a store-it-forward program.”

Tele-wound operates by Anderson taking photos of residents’ wounds or skin issues and uploading them to their file. A certified wound nurse practitioner then looks at them to give treatment recommendations.

While the system is still new, IVH is expanding its reach to the Iowa City VA in addition to the Des Moines VA organization — two common locations where residents travel to and from for appointments.

“Providers in Des Moines were eager to start seeing veterans as soon as possible,” Johnson said.

Some other benefits of the program deal with staff and specialists. Because staff members don’t have to transport a veteran to Des Moines or Iowa City and back to Marshalltown, they can spend those hours on the campus. It will be a cost saver for the IVH without having to pay for mileage and overtime to staff.

Another unique opportunity telehealth brings is the access to a greater pool of specialists.

“Our virtual health goes beyond the state of Iowa,” Johnson said. “There are other hubs around the country that we now can get help from.”

There are transplant centers located in Minneapolis, Minn., and Madison, Wis. A genetic counseling center can be found in Salt Lake City, Utah. Other special programs are in Pittsburgh, Pa., and other VA locations.

This outreach wouldn’t be available without the clinical video telehealth program.

“We’re really excited to see this mutual agreement help our residents,” said IVH Nurse Manager Krystle Faris.

There are three modalities that are offered through the telehealth program. The first is clinical video telehealth, which has been implemented already.

Store-it-forward is another modality that the IVH is hoping to bring on in the future. One of the big plusses of this is the ability to screen for diabetic retinopathy, which can be diagnosed by a provider from looking at images of the veteran’s eyes.

The final category is home telehealth, which won’t be implemented since all residents are on campus.

Though only a small number of veterans have used the telehealth system, the feedback from other VA locations has been positive.

“They’re really impressed travel isn’t required to talk to their provider,” Johnson said. “We’re expanding our access dynamically through these virtual care services, which is something we’re really focused on.”


Contact Mike Burvee at (641) 753-6611 or mburvee@timesrepublican.com


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