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Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center - Houston, Texas

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New High-tech, Telemedicine Devices Lead Veterans to Better

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Telemedicine Devices

Theodore Pantallion, a Home TeleHealth Program volunteer, (left) shows Navy Veteran Martin Cortines, Jr. how to operate a Health Buddy System. Photo: Quentin Melson, Public Affairs Specialist (TCF Intern)

Friday, March 30, 2012

HOUSTON – Veterans with chronic medical conditions requiring frequent monitoring now have access to a wide variety of convenient, easy-to-use telemedicine devices that send daily health updates from their homes to VA health care providers.

The Home TeleHealth Program at the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center (MEDVAMC) provides these high-tech gadgets free of charge to Veterans so important medical information about such acute conditions as diabetes, hypertension, high blood pressure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, depression, and heart failure can be continually monitored.

To participate in the Home TeleHealth Program, Veterans must be assigned to a VA primary care provider, have been evaluated in the last six months, and have a disease severity level requiring more than ten visits per year. For example, an individual who has a diagnosis of hypertension with a blood pressure of at least 160/90 or uncontrolled diabetes with an A1C of at least nine. Patients also need access to cellular, Internet, or Plain Old Telephone Service (POTS), and have electrical service in their home. Either the patient or the caregiver must possess sufficient cognitive function to use the equipment, interact with the care coordinator, and report monitoring variables.

One simple piece of equipment, called a “Health Buddy®,” looks like an answering machine. It collects and transmits disease management information including vital signs, symptoms, and behaviors to VA Home TeleHealth Program nurse practitioners and registered nurse care coordinators. With this critical data, VA health care providers are able to closely monitor Veterans, make recommendations, and communicate with the patient and other members of their health care team.

The MEDVAMC also uses Interactive Voice Response (IVR) technology for its visually impaired patients. In telecommunications, IVR allows Veterans to speak their responses into a cell or home telephone.

The Viterion TeleHealth Monitor® and Cardiocom’s Commander Home Telehealth Monitoring System® are used to measure weight, blood pressure, pulse, blood glucose, and pain levels. Wireless monitors allow patients to take measurements from convenient locations in their homes.

“These new telemedicine devices help Veterans take better care of their health by providing them a more active role in their own well being,” said Home TeleHealth Care Coordinator Ayalanda Williams, R.N., B.S.N., M.H.A. “Veterans in this program enjoy greater peace of mind knowing that the people responsible for their medical care have their latest heath information.”

Before a telemedicine device is activated, specific questions about the Veteran and his illness are recorded. The patient answers these questions each day. Information such as blood pressure, weight, and blood glucose level are entered into the electronic system allowing the Veteran’s care coordinator to anticipate and prevent avoidable problems. Health care providers monitor daily and contact the patient for medication adjustments or schedule appointments to keep the Veteran as healthy as possible.

Health care providers have seen a rise in positive outcomes from patients who have used telemedicine devices. In fact, the Home TeleHealth Program was recently recognized as a Prime Care “Best Practice.”

“Patients in the Home TeleHealth Program have had significant improvements in diabetic control and a reduction in unscheduled clinic and emergency visits,” said Williams. “This device improves self-care, treatment, and medication compliance by educating, motivating and monitoring patients on a daily basis.”

Telemedicine technology does not replace routine medical appointments; rather, it enhances primary care. These devices enable Veterans to take a more active role in their well-being and have peace of mind knowing their health care providers have up-to-date information every day in order to adjust their medical care. 

For more information about Home TeleHealth Program, contact Marcia Crane at 713-791-1414, ext. 4691 or Nicklette Knight at 713-791-1414, ext. 3218.

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Awarded re-designation for Magnet Recognition for Excellence in Nursing Services in 2008, the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center serves as the primary health care provider for more than 130,000 Veterans in southeast Texas and provides some of the most complex care within the VA Health Care System. The DeBakey VA employs nearly 3,600 staff and is one of 49 institutions within the prestigious Texas Medical Center, one of the largest health and research centers in the world. The DeBakey VA is home to a Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Clinic; Network Polytrauma Center; award-winning Cardiac and General Surgery Program; Liver Transplant Center; Epilepsy and Cancer Centers of Excellence; Substance Abuse Disorder Quality Enhancement Research Initiative; Health Services Research & Development Center of Excellence; Rehabilitation Research of Excellence focusing on mild to moderate traumatic brain injury; Mental Illness Research, Education and Clinical Center; $26.8 million Research and Development Program; and Parkinson’s Disease Research, Education, and Clinical Center. The hospital offers sophisticated, cutting-edge technology such as PET/CT imaging, the Evident™ microwave ablation system, a CyberKnife®, a Varian Trilogy linear accelerator, a Philips Wide Bore Computed Tomography Simulator, the ORControl System, the Abiomed Impella 2.5 catheter-based heart pump, and the Sapien heart valve. For more than 50 years, the DeBakey VA has served as the primary teaching facility for our major affiliate, Baylor College of Medicine and operates the largest VA residency program in the nation with 270 residents. Each academic year, more than 2,179 students are trained through 194 affiliation agreements with institutions of higher learning. Including the outpatient clinics in Beaumont, Conroe, Galveston, Houston, Lufkin, Richmond, and Texas City, MEDVAMC outpatient clinics logged almost 1.3 million outpatient visits in fiscal year 2011. For the latest news releases and information about the MEDVAMC, visit www.houston.va.gov.