Telehealth program reaches out to veterans with neurological damage

A recent peer-reviewed study published in the journal Telemedicine and e-Health reported that among veterans with chronic neurological disorders living in remote rural locations, telehealth could be key to follow-up care. Improving the quality of life for people living with chronic illness is difficult in areas that have few health care options nearby, and for those who are unable to drive long distances on a regular basis for care. The use of electronic health records is of the utmost importance for people living in remote areas, and people with chronic health issues in particular stand to benefit from EHRs. 

Reaching out 
Neurological issues are rampant among veterans, and ensuring that they have follow-up care is vital to preventing the problems from spiraling out of control. According to Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, traumatic brain injury has been the "signature wound" for many soldiers who have returned from war over the past decade or so. Although the Department of Defense tracks veterans who are living with TBI,  there are many who have not been diagnosed.  

Researchers set out to help veterans living in remote areas of the U.S. After an initial neurological screening at a clinic, participants received follow-up neurology care via telehealth systems at community health centers in rural outposts in various areas throughout the Southwest. The study found that 54 percent of participants were unable to drive, making the necessity of telehealth in these areas all the more glaring. 

For two years, 354 people were evaluated, and 92 percent said that the program helped them save time and money. Researchers calculated that over the course of the study, the participants saved an average of $48,000. In addition, they saved five hours of time that would have been spent driving and managed to avoid driving an average of 325 miles. Ninety-five percent said that they would like to continue receiving care via telehealth. 

Helping underserved communities through technology
According to the study, 2,500 communities in rural America have an unacceptably low ratio of primary care physicians to medical specialists. This can be particularly daunting for veterans, as many are living with not only TBI, but psychological damage that makes performing some tasks extremely difficult. In cities, the ratio is 1 medical specialist for every 2.4 primary care doctors, compared to 1 for every 12 in rural America. 

Neurology is a specialty that is especially likely to be more available in cities, making telehealth a vital service for veterans who are in need of follow-up care. Out of veterans enrolled in the Veteran's Affairs health care system, over 3.4 million live in rural areas, comprising 41 percent of the total number of veterans enrolled in the system.