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VA Patients Get Face-to-Face Service Across the Miles

October 2, 1998

Psychiatrist John Lehrmann has face-to-face sessions with veterans seeking mental health therapy served by Iron Mountain's Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Michigan's Upper Peninsula.

However, doctor and patient aren't in the same room. They aren't even in the same state. Dr. Lehrmann is more than 200 miles away at the Zablocki Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Milwaukee. Lehrmann sees his patients, as well as their local health providers, over an interactive television system.

Telemental Health Developed from Video-conferencing

Video-conferencing is common in business, but VA is using such systems to diagnose and treat patients with mental health problems. Doctors like Lehrmann can work a television camera on the top of a patient's television set. He can zoom in, when necessary, to check for a variety of symptoms that shows up in facial expressions and body language.

Telemental health clinics are a way of treating patients in remote areas where they don't have psychiatrists. "The ability to see the patient is very important," Lehrmann said. "With this equipment, we can get a good view." Likewise, a patient can see the physician, which is also very important.

VTEL Corporation of Austin, TX, makes the interactive video equipment, which transmits the signals over telephone lines. It was developed initially for teleconferencing. Michael Erdmann, chief of staff at the Zablocki VA, says that other kinds of health professionals can use intereactive television systems to reach patients.

Program Delivers Better Service and Cuts Costs

Before the telemental health program started, Iron Mountain patients had to wait up to three months to see a psychiatrist. The wait is now less than one month dependent on individual needs.

Telemental health not only serves patients, it also saves money. The $80,000 system means that Iron Mountain doesn't have to have certain specialists on their staffs and the cost of bringing mental patients to Milwaukee is eliminated.

VA's Telemedicine Project Was Semi-finalist in Prestigious Award

This program is just one aspect of the much bigger telemedicine project that the Iron Mountain and Milwaukee VA Medical Centers have underway to improve service, share resources, and cut costs. As a result, VA physicians in Milwaukee perform all imaging and pathology studies for Iron Mountain. For its innovations, the telemedicine program was named a 1998 semi-finalist in the prestigious Innovations in American Government Award.

Programs like telemedicine are on their way to achieving Vice President Gore's vision in his 1997 report, Access America. "The kind of government we'll have as we begin the next century," the Vice President said, "will be a government where all Americans have the opportunity to get services electronically and where, aided by technology, the productivity of government operations will be soaring."

For More Information

For more information, contact John W. Zewiske, Community Relations Office, Zablocki Veterans Medical Center, Milwaukee, (414) 382-5363 or