TOPEKA, Kan. – Kansas Governor Sam Brownback Tuesday (11/13) applauded a new federal-state telemedicine collaboration that will improve mental and health care accessibility for Kansas veterans. The collaboration involves the U.S. Veterans Affairs Department (VA), the University of Kansas Center for Telemedicine and Telehealth (KUCTT) and Kansas hospitals across the state.
“An ongoing goal of my administration is to find ways to deliver government services more efficiently and make them more effective. This is a clear example of how federal and state agencies can cooperate to deliver improved mental and health care services in a more cost-effective manner,” Governor Brownback said. “This collaboration will allow for Kansas veterans to get needed services closer to home. It expands the effectiveness of the VA medical services. And it will help lead the way for other telemedicine efforts around the state.”
A 2011 pilot program involving three hospitals which provided mental health services was seen as success by the VA, participating hospitals, and veterans alike. VA Heartland Network Director William Patterson, M.D. said this collaboration is the first of its kind in the country and there is interest in other VA Regions about developing similar programs.
“Instead of having to drive to Topeka, Wichita, or Leavenworth, this program will eventually allow Veterans to receive care from their VA provider closer to home at video sites in their local private clinic or community hospital. Our first program will be in Mental Health; our intent is to expand into Primary Care,” Dr. Patterson said.
One of the most active telemedicine programs in the world, KUTCC has more than 80 telemedicine and telehealth sites throughout the state. KUCTT Director Dr. Ryan Spaulding said the collaboration with the VA and local hospitals builds on the center’s goals.
“The purpose of the KU Center for Telemedicine & Telehealth is to provide the citizens of Kansas the best available healthcare while providing Kansas’ health professionals the best available health education,” Dr. Spaulding said. “We are excited to partner with the VA and local hospitals by providing the connection needed to reach our state’s veterans in their own communities.”
The University of Kansas Medical Center’s Area Health Education Center located in Garden City is the first to sign-up for the new telemedicine program which currently offers only mental health services. Officials said they will pursue other local and safety-net hospitals to join the current network of providers and expand the available services.
“This groundbreaking partnership between the VA and KUCTT has allowed for veterans to begin receiving mental and health care services closer to home, rather than having to drive to Wichita, Topeka or Kansas City,” said Adjutant General Lee Tafanelli. “This increases the likelihood of veterans seeking the care they have earned and deserve.”
Governor Brownback thanked State Rep. Tom Sloan (R-Lawrence) who first contacted the VA about developing a way to link the VA and hospitals’ telemedicine systems to better serve veterans
“With the success of this and other similar programs, possibilities of other health care services delivered through telemedicine in Kansas are expanding for veterans and non-veterans alike,” Rep. Sloan said.
The VA Heartland Network covers all or portions of six states - Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Arkansas and Kentucky.