FORT SCOTT — Veteran Roger Brown was skeptical of telemedicine when it was proposed about a year ago as a way to get help with his medications.
But he sat down in front of a TV in a conference room at the VA clinic in Fort Scott and met with a pharmacist based out of the Topeka VA hospital.
“It’s like her actually being here,” said Brown, who served in the Marines for 24 years. “It’s worked out real well.”
Telemedicine at the facility has been expanding, especially in the last couple of years, said team nurse Marianne Crane. Patients needing psychiatric help, chronic disease management and oncology care can use telemedicine. Other specialties are also available as is telemedicine for COPD and weight management, which are held in a group setting. Crane said the Fort Scott location is also planning on rolling out telemedicine in the near future for wound care.
“In the rural setting, we have to work hard to provide services,” said Crane, who has worked at the Fort Scott clinic for 12 years.
Brown said telemedicine means fewer trips to the Topeka VA. Reducing the number of four-hour round trip drives has saved him time and money. He has also met with the pharmacist face-to-face which has helped them develop a good working relationship, Brown said.
Crane said the biggest difficulty for veterans is transportation. In some cases, low-income patients may not have money for gas to make long trips and for veterans with health issues, driving long distances can be a challenge.
George Hudiburg, a 94-year-old WWII veteran who is losing his vision, said telemedicine has been beneficial. Ronnie Heckert, an army veteran who served in the Vietnam War, agreed.
Heckert had been making trips to the Topeka VA every six months for medication needed to treat PTSD. Like Brown, he was initially skeptical of telemedicine.
“I didn’t want to talk to a TV,” he said. But Heckert gave it a try and said he is glad he did.
The MISSION Act, signed into law by President Donald Trump earlier this month, expands the use of telemedicine services. Health care professionals will be given the authority to practice telemedicine regardless of their location or the location of the patient. The measure also requires data to be submitted on patient satisfaction and the effect of telemedicine on wait times.
Despite logistical challenges that rural areas face in terms of health care, Crane said there are advantages.
“It’s fun because we take care of people we know well,” she said. “We get very attached to our veterans.”
“It’s more like a family.”
The Fort Scott clinic serves about 500 veterans. Another 500 are served at outreach clinics in Garnett and Chanute, Crane said.