The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) continues to struggle with the challenges of providing healthcare to America’s veterans. When the story about the lengthy waiting times veterans experience when seeking  medical care at VA facilities came out two years ago, the department responded quickly with the Veterans Choice program. The Choice program, in which the VA has invested $10 billion, provided cards to veterans to get medical care outside the system if they “were more than 40 miles away from a VA facility, or they were going to have to wait longer than 30 days for a provider to see them.”

On paper this seemed like a simple solution to the backlog and an opportunity to provide veterans with much needed care, but recent reporting by National Public Radio (NPR) has shown that wait times for veterans have become worse, not better. In a recent story on veterans’ healthcare, NPR also revealed that “compared with this time last year, there are 70,000 more appointments that took vets at least a month to be seen.” While the VA has cited an increase in the number of veterans seeking healthcare, it would appear that delays are more than likely connected to the complexities of coordinating multiple providers.

However, what if there was a solution that allowed veterans to receive care within the VA system but did not rely on being able to get to a VA facility?  What if instead of having the veteran travel to a VA hospital, veterans could use community-based clinics to access VA care?

This was the idea behind a groundbreaking telehealth vehicle named TED – Telehealth Education Delivered – which houses a demonstration facility within the actual the vehicle. TED– which is essentially a doctor’s office on wheels – has been traveling to VA facilities around the country for more than a year now, demonstrating the capabilities of telemedicine in providing healthcare services for veterans in underserved and remote locations. From routine primary care to audiology, diabetic retinal screening, cardiology, dermatology, gerontology, and mental health services, telemedicine can provide a full suite of services without requiring veterans to travel to VA hospitals.  In the case of many veterans, including those in North Dakota, this includes being able to receive some form of care, including follow-up appointments via telehealth services in their homes.

North Dakota Veterans Receive Top Quality Care from VA Close to Home

The telehealth vehicle was built by Iron Bow Technologies with several partner organizations, including NetApp®. While the medical devices that are used in the demonstrations and by the nurses and providers fortunate enough to already have access to telehealth are impressive, the backend technology that facilitates the solution is the unsung hero of any telehealth program.

A robust and scalable storage architecture, such as NetApp®’s FAS Series storage systems, which powers TED, is an essential requirement for a reliable telehealth solution. As the industry’s only unified scale-out storage architecture, VA networks are able to scale quickly and seamlessly to the amount of data being transmitted from remote locations to medical centers to avoid downtime in a cost efficient manner.  With complex images of wounds, audio of heart sounds, or conversations in a therapy session flowing over networks, latency, or IT failure, is simply not an option.

TED2

TED on Location

Dan Klanderman, Senior Solutions Architect for Iron Bow Technologies has some advice for agencies and organizations considering investing in a telehealth solution. In a recent interview he advised against investing in proprietary solutions that silo information and recommends, instead, looking at those solutions that integrate best of breed technology from vendors that are committed to collaboration and interoperability. By taking this approach, organizations avoid creating a solution that can’t grow and scale to meet future needs both as the number of users and amount of data increases.

John Martien, NetApp’s Technical Account Manager for the Veterans Affairs Administration, added “the VA Data Services architecture will allow veterans and healthcare providers to access their health data and services securely, regardless of their location or access point.”  Martien also shared, “digital access to medical information, health records, and services has been shown to improve the quality of patient care and as well as outcomes because the ease of scheduling, treatment and follow-up improve the willingness of patients to seek medical assistance early and also to use preventative care services more frequently.”

INSIDE TED

TED houses sophisticated medical equipment and, behind the scenes, state of the art IT infrastructure.

With a 96 percent approval rating from veterans who have had the opportunity to use these services, telehealth looks like it will play an important role in the VA’s on-going support of America’s veterans.

Interested in seeing when TED will be at a VA facility in your town? The full schedule can be found here, but this week you can catch a demonstration at the VA Medical Centers in Walla Walla, WA and Boise, ID.