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Bucks County set to open virtual health clinic for veterans

September 12, 2017 | By James Boyle

A technology upgrade at the Lower Bucks County government services building will give veterans a state-of-the-art alternative to driving down to Philadelphia for health check ups.

The Bucks County commissioners recently approved a partnership with the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs that will create a telehealth clinic at the county service center on New Falls Road in Bristol Township. Once it is up and running, veterans will have the opportunity to make an appointment there and virtually interact with a physician located at the Philadelphia VA hospital using monitors and devices connected through the internet.

“This is basically a way for the VA to do more outreach and see veterans in remote locations,” said Dan Fraley, director of military affairs for Bucks County.

Fraley said the VA will provide the equipment and an on-site clinician at no charge to the county.

“We may be the first county in Pennsylvania to offer this service,” said Fraley. “A clinic in New Jersey uses telehealth technology, but it’s only for mental health cases.”

The clinic will be open to all Bucks County veterans, but Fraley anticipates the bulk of clientele will come from the lower Bucks County neighborhoods. Patients from places like Croydon, Morrisville and Bensalem typically crossed the Burlington-Bristol Bridge to use the VA clinic located at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in Burlington County.

Last year, those services were moved to a facility in Marlton, New Jersey, making the drive more of an inconvenience for the 449 Bucks veterans who frequented the base.

Appointments at the clinic will be available Wednesdays and Fridays, Fraley said. A VA clinician will operate the instruments and technology, and the patients will have a real-time check up and consultation with their doctor.

“The clinician will put the blood pressure cuff around the veteran’s arm and plug it into a USB port, and the physician in Philadelphia will be able to see the results on his monitor,” Fraley said. “They can check the temperature. The doctor can tell him to open his mouth and use a camera with an LED light attached to a three-foot cord running to the computer.”

Fraley said it also would be possible to conduct initial dermatological consults if a veteran wants the doctor to look at a mole or other skin growth. Some mental health services also could be provided through the telehealth link.

“We have a veterans mental health clinic in Bucks County for those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder or a traumatic brain injury,” said Fraley. “However, sometimes they have to go down to the Philadelphia VA center to see a psychiatrist and have their meds adjusted. That could potentially be done from the Levittown clinic through the telehealth link.”

If a more in-depth examination is necessary, such as an x-ray or MRI, the veteran would need to make an in-person appointment at the VA hospital. Veterans feeling apprehensive about driving lengthy distances to either the hospital in Philadelphia or Coatesville in Chester County can use Bucks County’s free transportation to those locations.

“It’s a free service offered five days a week,” said Fraley. “The 15-passenger bus was bought with grants and money raised in our annual golf outing. We make several stops throughout the county, then go to the VA hospital either in Philadelphia or Coatesville.”

Representatives from the VA will start installing the equipment and software this week at the Bristol Township government services building. Once it is tested and free of any bugs, the virtual check-ups will begin. Fraley anticipates a mid-October start date.

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