About 95 percent of patients who use the Clarksburg VA and its telehealth programs live in rural areas, Sandreth said.
The program reduces patients' wait time to see a specialist, and allows them to go to their closest VA hospital or clinic, no matter what they need, he said.
It also saves lives, said William H.D. Shelton, a registered nurse with the care-coordination home telehealth program.
Every day from his cubicle at the Clarksburg VA hospital, Shelton reviews the blood pressure levels, weight and blood sugar of more than 125 veterans from West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Ohio.
Veterans transmit the data from their home through a portable device that hooks up to their landline or cell phone. The device includes a message board, a blood pressure cuff and a scale.
The program is designed to treat veterans who have been treated in an ER or admitted to the hospital from complications with congestive heart failure, pulmonary disease, diabetes or hypertension.
"We're able to catch problems quicker," Shelton said, "before it's too late."
If the numbers aren't within normal range, Shelton calls his patient to check in. "I'll ask if they have a fever or an ear ache, or are their feet or legs swelling," he said.
He then e-mails his assessment to a doctor, who can prescribe medication if needed, and mail the drugs to the patient.
In more serious cases, the veteran might be told to go to the hospital, where doctors and nurses are told to expect him or her and are updated on his or her condition.
"We are health-care coordinators. We not only help with the specific diseases, but with a patient's entire health-care picture, from the sniffles to help getting a hold of the pharmacy," Shelton said. "What you get are 365 visits a year [from a health-care provider] for absolutely free."
Overall, participants in the program have reduced their length of stay in the hospital from about 108 to 42 days, and the number of ER visits from 190 to 150.
Most patients in the care-coordination program are World War II veterans in their 70s through their 90s, Shelton said, but the program is starting to see more veterans from Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.
Care coordination started about five years ago with one registered nurse monitoring a handful of veterans.
It has since grown to employ three nurses to manage about 125 veterans sending in their health statistics every day.
Hospital administrators hope to bring the enrollment up to 200 within the year, Shelton said.
Reach Veronica Nett at veroni...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5113.