Telemedicine provides convenient health care for veterans

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KANSAS CITY -- How would you like to be able to see your doctor without leaving the comforts of your home? We're not talking about old-fashioned house calls, but the future of telemedicine.

Technology is being used to provide the latest in health care to patients who may be hundreds of miles away from Kansas City's Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

"We're able to look into the patient's throat here and the provider is able to see it on the other end," explained Leslie Fernyhough, telehealth education specialist for Iron Bow Technologies.

Thanks to high-definition video cameras, and high-speed internet connections, veterans who used to dread a trip to the VA Medical Center now can get a complete exam without seeing the doctor face-to-face.

"A lot of the guys, women too, fall through the cracks," said Cheryl Ova, telemedicine coordinator for the medical center. "They don't have the vehicle to make that long ride, or family to bring them on their days of appointments. Or illness has taken them to the point that the long ride makes them sicker."

The VA has purchased 2,000 mobile care carts that provide high-definition images, and include connections for stethoscopes, otoscopes and retinal scans from remote locations.

"You can see your doctor talk to him and then the tech or nurse on this end can actually use all these different peripherals to do an exam, which the doctor would be able to see on the other side," Fernyhough said.

At $50,000 each, the carts may seem pricey, but when you consider that the VA pays transportation costs and lodging for patients to travel to a medical center, experts claim the high-tech tools quickly become a bargain for taxpayers.

At eight VA outpatient clinics surrounding Kansas City, much of this technology already is in place, allowing veterans to get the care they need.