Telehealth technology helping to ease VA Clinic backlog

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Appointment wait times have been a big concern for veterans in Colorado for many months, but now the Colorado Springs Veterans Affairs Clinic says technology is helping to decrease their backlog.

The PFC Floyd K. Lindstrom Clinic opened in Colorado Springs in August 2014, and in the last couple of years it has seen a 33 percent increase in patients.

With that influx, new patients were waiting months to be seen by a doctor.

But now VA clinics across Colorado are using technology called Telehealth.

It’s a cart rigged up with computers and equipment that allows veterans living in rural areas to go to the clinic nearest them and see their doctor through a webcam, meaning they don’t have to drive to a bigger city.

VA officials say 40 percent of their patients live in rural areas.

“I’m only 15 miles away from [Alamosa].” Felix Salazar said. “I’m 350 miles away from Denver.”

Thanks to the Telehealth technology, veterans like Salazar don’t have to drive several hours for a short appointment.

“It will benefit us a whole bunch because a lot of us are unable to travel that far anyway,” Salazar said while on webcam in Alamosa. “I used to be a volunteer driver for the VA, and some of the people I take to Denver, by the time I get back to them, I’m afraid that their last breath is going to be their last breath.”

The VA clinics are now expanding their use of Telehealth, allowing doctors to see more patients and giving easier access to older veterans.

“There was some resistance,” VA Eastern Colorado Public Affairs Officer Daniel Warvi said. “I remember veterans saying, ‘I don’t want to talk to a television,’ but once they see the equipment, they’re blown away. To date, one of my veterans, he says it’s real Buck Rogers stuff.”

Telehealth gives patients access to primary and specialty care like cardiology and audiology, plus wellness care like dieting and group therapy.

“We have had outstanding response from the veterans themselves who have said, ‘I love this. I feel like I get just as good of care via Telehealth as I do if I was to drive to see you in person.’ So to me that’s fantastic. That’s what we want to hear,” Audiologist Dr. Diane Brady said.

Although expanding Telehealth has helped with the backlog, they say their work in shortening the wait times and taking proper care of our veterans is far from over.

“We have to improve our access but we cannot allow our quality of the healthcare to decline. It cannot,” Deputy Chief of Staff Dr. Harold Dillon said.

Right now, the average appointment wait time for an established patient is eight days. New patients are waiting around 32 days to see a doctor.

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