Meadville Tribune

Local News

October 26, 2012

High-tech care ready for local vets' care

VERNON TOWNSHIP — Medical professionals working in the new Crawford County Veterans Affairs Clinic are encouraging area veterans and their families to stay local and take advantage of the fresh facilities and cutting-edge technology expanding in their own backyard.

Located previously in the Park Avenue Plaza just outside of downtown Meadville, this branch of the Erie VA Medical Center has nearly doubled in size, with final measurements approximately 6,500 square feet, and resides at 16954 Conneaut Lake Road behind the Presbyterian Church of the Redeemer, across the highway from Kmart.

“It’s not too far from the old clinic and we have room for more primary care staff on site,” said Sarah Gudgeon, public affairs specialist. “We also have room to expand our Telehealth program.”

Telehealth is the talk of the clinic and its parent company, featuring a 20 percent inclusion rate among the facility’s current clientele. It’s a major into-the-future upgrade for the clinic, in operation since 1998, that helps thousands of local vets a year — almost 3,000 last year.

The new program functions as a combination of online telecommunications and standard medical procedures, offering a digital link between patients in Crawford County and specialists in Erie and any participating medical center, potentially across the country.

“Telecommunication offers a safe way for patients to see their providers,” said Stacy Fritts, supervisor for optometry and Telehealth.

“There’s no live broadcasting, no video recording and it saves patients and providers time and travel.”

Fritts compared the experience as similar to Skype video chat, except in greater quality and with the addition of medical equipment capable of performing a head-to-toe assessment and sending the information directly from a patient to a medical care provider outside Crawford County and beyond.

“It’s not mandated,” Fritts added. “It’s just an option for patients’ convenience. We explain the procedure to new patients and if they are uncomfortable with it, we still offer traditional care facilities.”

Exam rooms, laboratories and other conventional spaces still line the clinic’s halls, allowing local veterans to receive traditional care.

“We’ve had positive feedback from participating veterans,” said Fritts. “It’s cost-effective and allows more therapy over a more consistent period of time, decreasing recovery times.”

Telehealth also allows the clinic and its patients to reach out to medical specialists well outside personal contact.

“Several institutions have primary care carts,” said Theresa Allen, Telehealth clinical technician.

“There are two screens so the patient can see the provider and the other screen can be used for electronic charting.”

“Once we finish the cart’s configuration, we could connect and talk to specialists in just about every VA clinic nationwide, from Hawaii to Alaska, you name it,” said Fritts. “We can get information from specialty clinics that we may not have on site; we just have to have a cart on both sides.”

This telemedicine cart is also equipped with a magnifying lens on a wand which can capture close up images of a patient’s skin and comes with attachments to examine the ears, eyes and nose.

Imagine a tongue depressor that can take pictures.

“It can help search for oral cancer, it can examine the ears and throat, it’s a really nice service we offer,” said Allen.

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