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Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center - Houston, Texas

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Telemedicine Connects Veterans to Critical Medical Care

November 21, 2011


Jebbeh Sandi-McBean, R.N.

Jebbeh Sandi-McBean, R.N. uses the new telemedicine program to prepare Veteran Ronald Broussard for surgery. “When patients have the opportunity to do a telemedicine visit, their attitude is usually different. They are usually beaming, smiling, and joking. I appreciate having that improved relationship,” said Sandi-McBean.
PHOTO:  Quentin Melson, Public Affairs Specialist (TCF Intern)

Patients of the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center (MEDVAMC) who live far away have better options when it comes to medical care thanks to a new telemedicine program being used in its Anesthesiology Pre-Operative Evaluation Clinic (POEC).

 “Telemedicine is an invaluable tool in health care. Where distance and travel are critical, telemedicine plays a big role in delivering effective health care services to our Veterans, utilizing modern technology and communications,” said Prasad Atluri, M.D., Anesthesiology Service Line executive and professor of Anesthesiology at Baylor College of Medicine.

Telemedicine is the ability to provide interactive health care using modern, video technology.  It allows patients to visit with their health care providers and receive immediate care.

Using a special computer connected to a large monitor, a high definition camera, a microphone, and headphones, Anesthesiology POEC staff members are able to perform pre-surgery exams from Houston while the patient is comfortably located in an exam room at a remote outpatient clinic.

“We want to make sure patients are appropriately evaluated and prepared for surgery,” said Sandi-McBean, R.N. “With anesthesia, the most important things we check for are the heart, lungs, and airway. In a telemedicine visit, we listen to their heart and lungs through headphones. With the help of a nurse, we are able to check the patient’s airway by focusing the camera inside their mouth.”

Decreasing the patient’s commute usually reduces the patient’s stress tremendously.

“For many patients, telemedicine saves the patient the time and aggravation driving into Houston from outlying areas,” said Belinda Hadnot, PEOC Program specialist. “For out-of-state patients, this saves significant time and money previously spent on air fare and lodging.”

Telemedicine visits at the Anesthesiology PEOC started this past July at the Beaumont VA Outpatient Clinic, but plans are in the works to have it available at all seven Houston-area VA clinics.  The decision to fund this project was made because of the myriad of benefits the telemedicine program provides.

The POEC assists patients with pre-operative work-up prior to being admitted to the hospital. This helps patients prepare for a safe surgery process so patients can quickly return to normal activities of daily living and family.

“Telemedicine allows health care providers more time to spend on continuity of care,” said South Central VA Healthcare Network Director George “Buzz” Gray at a recent MEDVAMC Town Hall Meeting. “It decreases parking headaches and waiting times. Care delayed is not the type of care that we want to provide.”

Patients have noticed the difference.

“Telemedicine has made getting health care easier for me,” said Marine Corps Veteran Ronald Broussard, who recently took part in a telemedicine visit.  “The service I received today was great; I would do it again.”

Members of the POEC staff say the time saved by conducting telemedicine visits has proved invaluable in continuing to make the VA the health care provider of choice.

“The telemedicine visit today probably saved Mr. Broussard hours,” said Leslie Yarmush, M.D., Anesthesiology POEC director. “It saved him the time stress of driving and then finding a place to park. He is the 23rd patient we have conducted a telemedicine visit with. So far, all of the patients absolutely love it.”

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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. Veterans from around the country are referred to the MEDVAMC for specialized diagnostic care, radiation therapy, surgery, and medical treatment including cardiovascular surgery, gastrointestinal endoscopy, nuclear medicine, ophthalmology, and treatment of spinal cord injury and diseases. The MEDVAMC is home to a Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Clinic; Network Polytrauma Center; an award-winning Cardiac and General Surgery Program; Liver Transplant Center; VA Epilepsy and Cancer Centers of Excellence; VA Substance Abuse Disorder Quality Enhancement Research Initiative; Health Services Research & Development Center of Excellence; VA Rehabilitation Research of Excellence focusing on mild to moderate traumatic brain injury; Mental Illness Research, Education and Clinical Center; and one of the VA’s six Parkinson’s Disease Research, Education, and Clinical Centers. 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