VA Advances Telehealth for Veterans with Spinal Cord Injury and Disease

Telemedicine at work at a Department of Veterans Affairs medical centerTelemedicine may well be the greatest advancement for individuals with spinal cord injury and disease (SCI/D) since the invention of the power wheelchair.

That’s according to Richard Strozewski, telehealth program specialist for SCI/D at the Louis Stokes VA Medical Center in Cleveland, Ohio. Strozewski went to work at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) after 40 years in the teleconferencing and information systems industry in hopes of helping develop telehealth for veterans with SCI/D, many of whom are often unable to travel to a VA medical center for services and routine medical visits.

“With telehealth, there are no borders, and we leave no SCI/D veteran behind,” Strozewski said. “If veterans can’t make it here, we want to be able to offer the same services as those who can make it here. We can do everything clinically except for having a visit where the patient has to be physically touched.”

Strozewski spoke about the telehealth advancements for SCI/D patients at Paralyzed Veterans of America’s annual Summit+Expo, which took place Aug. 27-29, 2013, in Orlando, FL.

Advancements in telemedicine span several areas, from home telehealth monitoring systems to video telehealth to online personal health records through VA’s My HealtheVet system. The tools, which often work in sync with one another, currently offer 25 services to veterans in areas including wound management, pain management, neurology, psychology and urology, as well as wheelchair consultations and chaplain services. Veterans also can connect with providers online to renew prescriptions and set up appointments, Strozewski said. 

Advancements in telehealth have not come without challenges, however, particularly as medical providers are resistant to the concept of technology replacing in-person contact with patients. Technology challenges – from having adequate help desk support to providing training to patients and providers – also hinder telehealth’s progress, though these all are issues the VA hopes to have worked out in the near future, Strozewski said.

“Across the country, SCI/D had more visits video-to-home than any other practice, and they are the patient population that is best serviced by video-to-home,” he said. “The prime drive is we’re building a system that can technically support anyone in the SCI centers anywhere in the country.”

In the future, the VA’s goals are to get as many SCI/D veterans and providers as possible participating in telehealth and continuing to develop new services that can incorporate telehealth. Over the next decade, the hope is that all veterans with SCI/D will be using some form of telehealth, Strozewski said.

“We’d like to see 90 to 100 percent of SCI veterans using telehealth to the level that they are as comfortable with it as they are with turning on the TV set at night,” Strozewksi said. “Veterans should be asking their providers to use telehealth, and providers should be asking SCI telehealth coordinators what they can do with telehealth. It’s a bottom-up approach.”

For more information or to register for Paralyzed Veterans of America’s 2014 Summit+Expo taking place Aug. 26-28, 2014 in Las Vegas, NV, visit this link.

Return to Summit 2013: Research Highlights

Brittany Ballenstedt is a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in several publications, including Government Executive, National Journal, Technology Daily and NextGov.com. 

 

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