VA Telehealth program reaches rural veterans

Jonathan Kaupanger
March 06, 2018 - 2:23 pm

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Rural veterans with post-traumatic stress (PTS) are the latest target of VA’s Telehealth program. Through the Telemedicine Outreach for PTS or TOP psychotherapy and other related services is provided for veterans in need through phone or video calls.

“Our researchers have worked diligently in recent years to establish the safety and efficacy of PTS psychotherapy delivered remotely, ensuring veterans will get the same quality of PTS care as if they were in a doctor’s office at a VA medical center,” said VA Secretary David J. Shulkin. “We are excited to see this program help greater numbers of veterans living in rural areas and pleased that it will save them time and effort to get to a VA facility that is far from their homes.”

There are two types of evidence-based, trauma-focused psychotherapies available, cognitive processing therapy and prolonged exposure therapy.  Vets who participate in the program receive phone calls from a care manager who helps connect them to services provided by psychiatrists and psychologists. The therapy can be phoned in to either the veteran’s home, or the vet can go to a medical center or a community based outpatient clinic (CBOC).

“Long travel distances to urban areas can be a major barrier to care for rural veterans,” said Dr. John Fortney, a research health scientist and project lead at the VA’s Puget Sound Heath Care System in Seattle, Washington. “In a prior trial, we were able to use telehealth technologies successfully to engage veterans, without their having to travel to a distant VA medical center.”

Right now, more than 500 veterans are enrolled in the study, which will continue until the results are made available in 2020. There are 12 CBOCs in the program right now. They are in Charleston, South Carolina, Iowa City, Iowa, Little Rock, Arkansas, Denver, Colorado, San Diego, California and Seattle. 

You can learn more about VA’s PTS program here.  Last year, the VA concluded a study on home-based telehealth compared to in-person therapy.  The findings were that “telehealth treatment delivered directly into patient’s homes could dramatically increase the reach of this evidence-based therapy for PTS, without diminishing effectiveness.