Birmingham VA repurposes tele-health technology - Birmingham, Alabama VA Health Care System
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Birmingham, Alabama VA Health Care System


Birmingham VA repurposes tele-health technology

Dr. Michael Wells demonstrates the use of tele-health equipment with COVID-19 patients.

Dr. Michael Wells demonstrates the use of tele-health equipment for use with COVID-19 patient.

By Derrick Smith, Public Affairs Specialist & photos by Jennifer Baseden, Visual Information Specialist
Friday, April 17, 2020

As the Department of Veterans Affairs increases the use of telehealth services, the Birmingham VA Health Care System (BVAHCS) is repurposing technology to care for Veterans effected by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The telehealth program, which includes tele-ICU and tele-stroke platforms, allows VA health care teams to treat Veterans regardless of their location, including across state lines. Initially, the BVAHCS began treating Veterans within the tele-stroke area but now it is using the same equipment to treat Veteran patients during the coronavirus outbreak. 

“COVID-19 has changed the way we approach patients and have patient contact because of the risk of transmission to healthcare workers and use of social distancing,” said Dr. Michael Wells, the Birmingham VA Medical (BVAMC) ICU director. 

The tele-stroke equipment consists of an iPad on a rolling stand.  Under normal circumstances where there is concern for an acute stroke,  the tele-stroke equipment connects the team of doctors and nurses at the point-of-care with an off-site stroke specialist to exchange health information through real-time audio, visual, and electronic means. 

For the purposes of improving communication with COVID-19 patients, the tele-stroke team headed by Dr. Michael Lyerly and the BVAMC Chief Informatics Officer Dr. Kimberly Bishop developed an innovative strategy of using the existing equipment to allow for communication between the medical team and a COVID-19 patient using FaceTime via a dedicated iPad. 

“Our team has repurposed the tele-stroke equipment, putting the iPad on a stand into the patient’s room and using a second iPad by the health care provider out of the room so you can have a face-to-face conversation with the patient and minimize healthcare worker exposure to patients with this highly contagious condition.”  

Recognized as a best practice, social distancing is recommended to help ensure safety of Veterans and healthcare providers at the VA.

“The Veteran can use an iPad or their own smart device to call in to the physician directly and have that interaction yet remotely even though you are physically in the same area,” added Dr. Wells.

The technology has been deployed in three areas within the BVAMC including the emergency room, the acute care ward and intensive care, and helps family communicate with the Veteran/patient when if possible.

“We have been able to show family members, via these communication devices, a snapshot of their loved ones and how they are doing. It gives them more of a picture of how they are doing in a time when hospital visitation is not common,” added Dr. Wells.

Dr. Wells believes the BVAHCS stands ready to give care to Veterans and the public effected by the coronavirus outbreak.

“The Birmimgham VA is very capable of handling any of the issue they may come up with COVID. The leadership has been outstanding, and there are solid plans for managing these patients.  We have the testing and treatment capabilities to best serve our Veterans in this pandemic.”


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