The Veterans Home of California has begun bringing specialty health care to its Yountville grounds – without patients leaving the premises.
A telemedicine system linking patients with doctors at a San Francisco veterans hospital debuted earlier this month, sparing some residents bus rides that can consume most of a day.
Officials at the Yountville retirement center, which houses about 1,100 former service members and spouses, said the remote system is the first step in extending telemedicine to all eight Veterans Homes in the state.
The Yountville home is California’s first to receive the equipment, according to spokeswoman Terri Mejorado. Patients with Parkinson’s disease will be the first to consult with doctors based at the San Francisco VA Medical Center at Fort Miley, initially with three patients receiving virtual appointments every Monday.
The two-way camera and videoconferencing system allows doctors to observe the tremors and rigidity of Parkinson’s sufferers from afar, making it an ideal test bed for the service, said Alan Jessen, the home’s clinical administrator.
A patient in Yountville sits in front of a camera and computer screen with a nurse by his or her side, and converses with a doctor in a manner similar to the popular Skype video messaging system. Cameras and speakers for the system cost $450 and are connected to existing computers at the Holderman Building, Mejorado said.
Leaders at the Veterans Home, which has seven general practitioners on staff, are hoping to create a less stressful and time-consuming experience by linking patients with specialists by camera and computer, particularly for residents needing follow-up care.
Currently, patients are bused to the Fort Miley VA center, a 90-minute one-way trip often bogged down by Bay Area congestion. After dealing with gridlock and waiting for other patients to be seen, a Yountville-based client may require most of a day to fulfill even a 10-minute doctor’s appointment in San Francisco, said Julie Fields, medical director for the Veterans Home’s ambulatory care clinic.
The Veterans Home’s remote hookup is a result of a year of discussion involving officials with the home, the VA and Fort Miley staff on how to better serve patients, according to Don Veverka, administrator of the Yountville home.
“We’ve observed the burdens on veterans – who already don’t feel well to begin with – having to take a bus to San Francisco, waiting for other veterans to conclude their services before they get served and come back,” he said last week.
“This is something where technology can make it easier and cheaper, and we’re going for it,” said Jessen. “It’s especially good for when you just need to talk to a doctor and the doctor wants to watch you. It’s quite good for follow-up visits, which a lot of doctor visits are.”
Although a full expansion plan is not yet in place, Isa Baca, who coordinates the telemedicine program for the state Department of Veterans Affairs, said telemedicine service may be extended to other Parkinson’s patients at homes first in Northern California and then in the south. CalVet also could provide remote services in other disciplines not requiring face-to-face visits, he added, such as dermatology, basic neurology and retina screening for diabetics.
Offering more access to travel-free health care “has been a no-brainer for a while,” she said. “Getting the wheels rolling in both the federal and state (veterans’) systems is sometimes challenging, but everybody has seen the need for this for a long time.”