Primary health care in American Vet Centres goes telemedicine

Washington D.C. 02 December 1997 In the USA, combat or traumatised veterans can get medical counsel through a network of so called Vet Centres which is organised nationwide by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). At present, the tremendous advances in telecommunications technology are being used to expand the primary health care programs within these centres. Twenty locations benefit from a three million dollars provision in equipment and startup operating costs related to telemedicine. Ten Vet Centres receive another one million dollars to enhance their conventional medical services.

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In the USA, combat or traumatised veterans can get medical counsel through a network of so called Vet Centres which is organised nationwide by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). At present, the tremendous advances in telecommunications technology are being used to expand the primary health care programs within these centres. Twenty locations benefit from a three million dollars provision in equipment and startup operating costs related to telemedicine. Ten Vet Centres receive another one million dollars to enhance their conventional medical services.

Over the past two years, the VA has established over 100 community-based clinics in an effort to bring health care delivery closer to the veterans, as Dr. Kenneth W. Kizer, VA Under Secretary for Health, explains. Initially, twenty telemedicine sites will link rural and urban Vet Centres, VA Medical Centres as well as other community agencies and resources to promote services such as health screenings for chronic diseases, health prevention programs, sexual trauma outreach and consultation, and psychosocial care.

Electronic information and communication technologies are applied to offer health care over long distances by means of teleconferences or retrieval of networked records. The VA initiative particularly focuses on high-risk and minority groups. Veterans facing barriers to medical care, like disabled and homeless persons, will receive special attention.

Two examples clearly illustrate this humanitarian mission. Native Americans on reservation lands are getting health screenings for hypertension and diabetes as well as psychiatric assessments and consultations at the Navajo Vet Centre outstation in Chinle, Arizona. The Philadelphia Vet Centre in Pennsylvania takes care of its minority veteran population consisting typically of people with a Puerto Rican or an African-American background. Thanks to the new telemedical implementations, all these veterans will have access to the primary health care service they deserve.


Leslie Versweyveld

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