Veterans in rural areas find telemedicine, a simple way to the care they need.
By Brandon Lilly
While studying the effectiveness of mental health services for veterans returning from active military duty abroad, Dr. John Fortney, a geographer at the University of Washington, noticed a problem.
“Ninety-six percent of U.S. counties have an unmet need about psychiatry,” Fortney said. “Only 22 percent of Americans with a mental health disorder receive any specialty mental health care, and the number is even lower in rural areas.”
A staggering percentage of military veterans indeed return to rural areas after completing their tours. Many live in several hours away from the nearest Veterans Administration facility. Traveling to these hospitals is not as big of an issue for veterans who need urgent medical care. Still, distance has proven to be a barrier to receiving the consistent mental health services necessary to combat conditions such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. In total, approximately 38 percent of veterans who have PTSD live in rural areas.
“My work has focused on how to provide more resources and support to rural primary care clinics so they can better address mental health disorders,” Fortney said.
Enter telemedicine. Dr. Fortney led a study in which researchers included 265 middle-aged vets with severe PTSD symptoms at one of the outpatient clinics without onsite psychiatrists or psychologists from 2009 through 2011. Half of the study’s participants received standard outpatient care from smaller VA facilities. In contrast, the other group received additional care over the phone with nursing care managers and pharmacists calling their homes and psychiatrists providing consults by video chat.
According to the report, patients in the telemedicine group had more significant decreases in Post Traumatic Diagnostic Scale scores at the six-month and one-year mark than those who did not receive telephonic care. There was no difference in medicines prescribed or taken between the two groups.
“The (study) showed that a telephone care coordinator could work successfully with rural veterans with PTSD to engage them in trauma-focused, evidenced-based psychotherapy delivered remotely via interactive video,” Fortney says.
Good news for people wanting to get the care they need without spending all day driving to get it.