Milwaukee VA Medical Center
Telecardiology combines care, convenience
Jerry Roberts is quick to admit an appreciation for his cardiac care is based solely on convenience.
From his home in Mercer, a small town of about 1,700 roughly 60 miles northeast of Rhinelander, the 79-year-old Navy Veteran would face a one-way drive of about 300 miles to the Milwaukee VA Medical Center for a cardiology appointment.
Instead, Roberts travels about 30 miles to a VA clinic in Ironwood, Michigan, where his examination is conducted by a doctor in Milwaukee via the VA’s telecardiology program.
“I think it’s great that they came up with that,” Roberts said. “Otherwise, it’s a long, long ways away. I’d recommend it to anybody.”
The video-teleconferencing system connects a patient and nurse at a remote location with a doctor at the other end.
“Basically, I get an email from the nurse at whatever site, and I open up the software,” said Nicole Lohr, a cardiologist at the Milwaukee VA. “I put these headphones on and the nurse on the other end has a stethoscope that’s hooked up to the computer, that then transmits breath sounds, heart sounds. You can do a fairly decent physical exam.”
The Milwaukee VA, which already had a strong telecardiology program with its clinics in Green Bay, Appleton, Cleveland and Union Grove, as well as several other VA facilities, recently was awarded expansion funds from the Office of Rural Health to serve as the Telecardiology Hub for VISN12 (VA Integrated Services Network, which includes VA facilities in Wisconsin, northern Michigan and northern Illinois.
Lohr said the expansion funds will allow for additional employees to be allocated to the telecardiology program, as well as expand its reach.
“For some people who have made a decision to live in very remote areas, they’re still allowed an opportunity that their choice of location isn’t going to hurt them physically, that they will get a good doctor, and they will have access to health care,” Lohr said.
Veterans who take advantage of the telecardiology option enjoy the experience, Lohr said.
“I crack the same jokes whether I’m in the office or not,” she said. “So, detachment through technology is not really a barrier.”
“In the age of Apple Watches and all this other stuff, now we’re basically saying that where the doctor came to your house in the past, it’s now cool to go back to that kind of thinking,” she said. “It’s personal, but in a different way. It’s using technology to get back to keeping everything local and I just find that appealing.”