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The home for VPR's coverage of health and health industry issues affecting the state of Vermont.

Regional Report: Virtual Health Care In White River Junction

AP/ Toby Talbot

Technology is being implemented in the health care industry in a variety of ways including text message appointment reminders and using robots during surgical procedures. At the Veteran’s Affairs medical center in White River Junction, more patients now have the option of consulting with their doctor over video chat.

Chris Fleisher has been tracking this storyfor Valley News and explains the expansion of this technology for this week’s Regional Report.

"They don't see a noticeable difference in the quality of care," says Fleisher.

Officials are saying it’s a more cost-effective way to deliver health care. In a rural state like Vermont, it might be more convenient to speak to your doctor on video rather than driving through harsh winter weather to get to the office. Some patients use their own devices, while others travel to community clinics that are much closer to their homes.

Fleisher says he spoke with one physical therapist who was skeptical about video conferencing his patients at first, but now finds it useful:

“He can just kind of coach them remotely. They don’t have to make the trip to the medical center where he is in White River Junction if they live an hour or two away and it would be prohibitive for them to visit him,” Fleisher says.

Officials said that the technology could actually make it easier for patients to make appointments they would otherwise miss due to travel time or inclement weather. In areas like mental health, video chats have been used for six years. Now, the VA is expanding to areas like occupational therapy, and even physical therapy.

“One patient I spoke with down in the Bennington area said that he’s able to just do his exercises in his kitchen while consulting with the therapist in White River Junction,” says Fleisher.

Fleisher said there are several limitations to the technology. He pointed to regulatory issues as an area of concern:

“For instance, if we’re turning our iPhones into medical devices, are those then medical devices that should be regulated by the FDA?”

Fleisher says none of the doctors he spoke to felt this was a replacement, but rather a supplement to care. Doctors said that the patients they would reach with this technology would be those otherwise not receiving any care.

Other concerns include licensing issues and privacy, but overall Fleisher says both doctors and patients seemed to be happy with the service.

“They’re getting care in a more convenient way and in a more cost-effective way for them,” says Fleisher. “They don’t have to drive, they don’t have to use the gas money. And they don’t see a noticeable difference in the quality of care.”

A graduate of NYU with a Master's Degree in journalism, Mitch has more than 20 years experience in radio news. He got his start as news director at NYU's college station, and moved on to a news director (and part-time DJ position) for commercial radio station WMVY on Martha's Vineyard. But public radio was where Mitch wanted to be and he eventually moved on to Boston where he worked for six years in a number of different capacities at member station a Senior Producer, Editor, and fill-in co-host of the nationally distributed Here and Now. Mitch has been a guest host of the national NPR sports program "Only A Game". He's also worked as an editor and producer for international news coverage with Monitor Radio in Boston.
Annie Russell was VPR's Deputy News Director. She came to VPR from NPR's Weekends on All Things Considered and WNYC's On The Media. She is a graduate of Columbia Journalism School.
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