Portland VA Finds Success with Telemedicine
> 10/18/2006 9:54:50 AM

Updating a story from last week on some of the recent successes of telemedicine, The Portland Business Journal ran a story recently detailing the success of a study run at the Portland Veteran's Administration Medical Center. Portland experimented with a system for diabetes patients where each was given a Blackberry device that was used to respond to daily questions about their symptoms. This information was received by doctors and nurses at the VA who would in turn contact a specific patient if there were any concerns with their care. The group who participated in the telemedicine exercise had significantly fewer hospital visits and primary care visits than their counterparts undergoing traditional diabetes care.

While the study didn't examine the economic effects of this new approach, it is clear that reducing hospital and doctor visits can reduce the cost of treatment in chronic care situations like diabetes. As we've discussed earlier, in many cases it is the lack of an appropriate monetization of time that has been a barrier to more doctors taking up a telemedicine approach in managed care situations. The Portland Business Journal also addresses concerns about the "human connection:"

"A lot of people think this kind of technology is replacing a human component," Kurt Grossman, CEO of the California-based Doctor's Telehealth Network said of the VA study. "It's not. It's facilitating better communication with more needy people."

Telehealth is important for the VA because its patients often have to travel significant distances to get care within the government-financed health system. In addition, the VA's payment system, which gives a fixed sum of money to care for every patient, encourages patients to receive care in the least-costly setting.

The VA represents only one particular sector where telemedicine can help make care more efficient and cost-effective. Those of us engaged in the mental health field understand that treating depression, addiction and anxiety disorders, among other issues, requires a chronic care frame of mind. The race doesn't go to the swift, and cures will not pop up over night. As with the diabetes cases at the center of the Portland VA's study, mental health disorders require persistence and diligence. Helping consumers better manage their own care, using telemedicine practices to get care when and where it is convenient will help make mental health care more efficient, more accessible and even more effective.

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