CLARKSBURG, W.Va. -- To see his patients, Dr. Drury Armistead sits down in front of his computer and opens a video feed.
Armistead, a dermatologist with the Louis A. Johnson VA Medical Center in Clarksburg, is part of the growing telehealth program that connects patients and doctors, no matter the distance.
Two days a week, Armistead virtually examines patients at the VA medical centers in Altoona and Erie, Pa. -- more than 100 miles away from his West Virginia office.
On Wednesday, he sat in front of his computer in Clarksburg and spoke with Bruce Turner at the Erie VA Medical Center about a recurring rash on Turner's leg.
A camera in the Pennsylvania exam room gave Armistead a bird's-eye view of the room. On the other end, Turner had a close-up view of Armistead in his office in West Virginia.
Two nurses sat in on Turner's exam, and Armistead told them what to look for on Turner's foot. They moved the camera to give the doctor a close-up look at the problem spot.
"Dermatology is a lot of story and images," Armistead said - getting the history of the issue and then taking a look at the problem area.
The high-definition image transmitted via computer is just as good as sitting in the same room with the patient, Armistead said.
"There is no reason why I can't [treat a patient] like in a regular clinic," he said.
During his exam with Turner, Armistead bounced between two computer screens in his office, one with a live video feed and the other with the patient's medical records.
He diagnosed Turner's rash, ordered a biopsy and scheduled a follow-up appointment.
"It couldn't have been easier," Turner said after his appointment. "I got two great nurses on this end that make it all work."
Tele-dermatology is one of six telehealth programs offered at the Clarksburg VA hospital. They connect patients to health professionals for mental health services, pathology, retinal exams and care coordination.
Armistead has run Clarksburg's tele-dermatology program for about six months, and sees about seven patients each day he holds the long-distance clinic. He expects to see more as the program becomes more established.
Hospital officials plan to add the VA medical centers in Huntington and Butler, Pa., as well as four others across the region, to the program.
The programs helps VA hospitals and clinics fill staff or specialist voids, and ensures that patients get treatment and care no matter where they live, said Ron Sandreth, operations manager for the community and rural health program for the Clarksburg VA.
"It's all about accessibility and reaching as many veterans as possible," Sandreth said.
Patients who have to travel several hours for an appointment or don't have easy access to transportation won't make the trip, Sandreth said. If they do come, they're less likely to have follow-up care, he said.