Report from Washington
From time to time, this column highlights ongoing challenges, promising innovations, etc. being undertaken by various people, organizations, and/or businesses from throughout Ninth District. For example, I wrote earlier this month of a local cow/calf operation and its owner’s support of improving our tax code.
I have also discussed the Radford Health and Rehab Center, which has made strides in health care innovation and improving patient care through “telemedicine,” which generally refers to clinical services provided remotely using various telecommunications technologies.
Another local facility taking advantage of developments in telemedicine is the Salem Veterans Affairs Medical Center (VAMC), which treats many Ninth District veterans.
I visited the Salem facility last week and, in addition to more general issues I discussed with their leadership, I was able to visit their physical therapy department which uses telemedicine to provide greater services to rural areas of Virginia.
As you may know, the VA has what are called Community Based Outpatient Clinics, or CBOCs. There are hundreds of them throughout the country, as they provide common outpatient services and are intended to help make it more convenient for veterans—particularly those in rural communities—to receive care closer to home.
In the Ninth District, there are CBOCs located in Norton, Tazewell, and Wytheville.
In the Wytheville CBOC, a room that previously housed a printer and other equipment was turned into a physical therapy room. There, Jessica Edwards, a licensed physical therapist assistant, uses Clinical Video Technology (CVT) as part of their telerehabilitation program.
After a veteran completes a one-time evaluation at the Salem VAMC, follow up treatments may be provided at the Wytheville CBOC through CVT.
Edwards works remotely with folks at the Salem VA including Dr. William D. Adkins, PT, DPT, OCS, ATC, Cert. MDT (a doctor of physical therapy and Salem-based physical therapist) and Dr. Anthony Caruso, PT,DPT (a doctor of physical therapy and the chief of the Physical Therapy Department at the Salem VAMC).
During my visit to the Salem facility, Edwards joined us via camera from the Wytheville CBOC. They conservatively estimated that their telerehabilitation program has saved veterans 93,380 miles in travel for treatments and reevaluations, as those veterans would otherwise have to drive to the Salem VAMC.
This is in addition to the estimated $26,700 they estimate saving in completed consults, the $61,600 they estimate having saved through follow-up visits provided in Wytheville, and the $2,097 potential savings in telehealth re-evaluations provided in Wytheville.
A similar program recently began at the Staunton CBOC, which is outside of the Ninth District.
This telerehabilitation program uses taxpayer money wisely, and provides a valuable service to veterans by delivering musculoskeletal care to those living in rural Virginia communities. Without such a service, the benefits of a veteran’s physical therapy may have worn off in a cramped car during their drive home from the Salem VAMC.
The Carilion Family Medical Clinic in Giles County, a clinic I visited several years ago, also practices telemedicine. If a patient were to come in with pneumonia, for example, and it was determined the patient has a mental health issue such as depression, they would connect via telehealth with a mental health worker for additional assistance.
I am sure other Ninth District facilities make use of some telehealth technologies as well, but I have not yet had the opportunity to visit all of those.
Telemedicine is a trend we as a nation should embrace, particularly for rural and underserved areas. As part of that, federal policies and coverage should reflect that telemedicine is a way for rural and underserved areas to receive a higher degree of health care services. It is also a way for patients to save money and time traveling numerous miles to seek help.
As a part of that vision, I have introduced legislation to expand access to stroke telemedicine (also called “telestroke”) treatment in Medicare. Through telestroke, a patient having a stroke can gain access to specialists through the use of interactive videoconferencing, even if the hospital at which the patient is receiving treatment does not have a stroke neurologist available around the clock.
This telestroke service should, for many patients, reduce the need for rehabilitation and nursing home stays because data shows us quick intervention can often prevent the most devastating effects of a stroke. The Furthering Access to Stroke Telemedicine (FAST) Act (H.R. 2799) can be found at www.morgangriffith.house.gov.
If you have questions, concerns, or comments, feel free to contact my office. You can call my Abingdon office at (276) 525-1405 or my Christiansburg office at (540) 381-5671. To reach my office via email, please visit my website at www.morgangriffith.house.gov.