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Technology helping to cut wait times for veterans hoping to see their doctors

Jul 8, 2015

In telehealth appointments, veterans can go to an outpatient clinic close to home and see doctors hundreds of miles away via the internet.
Credit Courtesy photo / Oscar G. Johnson VA Medical Center

More Michigan veterans are trying “telehealth” appointments.

It’s sort of like seeing your doctor through a computer online, but the computer can also relay a heartbeat, the sound of a person's lungs, or detailed pictures of an injury.

Lillian Gerhart is a telehealth coordinator and nurse manager at the Oscar G. Johnson VA Medical Center in Iron Mountain, where telehealth has become vital.

A veteran who talked to her about telehealth appointments a couple of weeks ago demonstrates why.

This veteran lives in Sault Ste Marie, Gerhart says. That means he made a four day round trip to see a cardiologist in Milwaukee.

“After I got done talking to the doctor about small stuff,’ he says, ‘the whole medical appointment took seven minutes.’ So it was four days for seven minutes,” Gerhart said.

After the initial appointment in Milwakee, Gerhart says the veteran can do telehealth appointments and get a checkup where he lives.

“I think the patients appreciate not having to travel such a long distance.” she said. "Some of the specialists aren’t even available in this area.”

Dermatologists, psychiatrists and psychologists are specialties that are hard to come by in the U.P., even outside of the VA system. The technology has made a difference in wait times for veterans there, according to a VA spokesman.

In 2014, about 4,000 patients in the region that covers the U.P. and northern Wisconsin had at least one telehealth appointment. That’s almost double the number of veterans who used telehealth in 2011.

The number of total telehealth appointments went from a couple thousand to more than 10,000 last year.