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August 01, 2012

VA Providing New Care for Veterans Through Video Conferencing

By Deborah Hirsch
TMCnet Contributor

In its on-going effort to provide the best care possible for our nation’s veterans, the Department of Veteran Affairs has put in place a new program to increase access to specialty care services for veterans in rural and medically under-served areas through the use of videoconferencing equipment.

Called the Specialty Care Access Network-Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes, the initiative, working through SCAN-ECHO, enables specialty care teams in diabetes, pain management and hepatitis C, to use videoconferencing equipment to connect with primary care providers and “patient-aligned care teams for veterans.”

The ECHO model links primary care providers in local communities with specialist care teams at academic medical centers to help manage patients who have chronic conditions requiring complex care. During a SCAN-ECHO session, the primary care provider presents a patient's case and the specialty care team recommends a treatment plan. Formal clinical education is also provided to physicians.

The system uses video conferencing to conduct weekly virtual clinics operating like grand rounds at major teaching hospitals to educate doctors on the latest medical research and treatments, according to the Federal Telemedicine News website. In a SCAN-ECHO consultation, other primary care providers have the opportunity to listen to the discussion, ask questions, and learn from the advice given.

Project ECHO is not considered traditional telemedicine that pulls together a one-to-one remote connection between a doctor and a patient. No patient is ever actually seen during an ECHO clinic, but it enables primary care clinicians to gain new competencies to provide care that was not previously available in their communities.

Currently, there are “teleclinics” on hepatitis C, chronic pain, rheumatology, addictions, psychiatry, asthma, pulmonary care, cardiovascular risk reduction, high-risk pregnancy, HIV/AIDS, geriatrics, palliative care, pediatric obesity, and heart failure.

Eleven VA medical facilities are in pilot studies as SCAN-ECHO centers. Since May, 35 teams in 14 specialties have been formed, with 150 SCAN-ECHO sessions held and a total of 690 consults completed.

Edited by Brooke Neuman


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