Telehealth Education Program Could Save VA Millions
February 11, 2011 – A recent study looked at what effects exist when veteran caregivers are given access to telephonic education and support groups, and on the money the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) spends training caregivers and treating veterans with dementia. Researchers found spouses of veterans with mild to severe dementia placed into a telephone-driven “group education-and-support intervention,” saved the VA almost $2800 per patient for 6 months. This type of support was compared to standard VA care for such patients.
The findings were tempered, however. The money saved over those 6 months pretty much disappeared and after a 12-month check all initial savings were gone. Researchers initially predicted if veterans’ caregivers used the Telehealth Education Program (TEP) the caregivers would use fewer overall health care services resulting in less money spent but still providing exceptional care.
Out of the 158 couples participating in the study, 83 used the TEP intervention and the other 75 received usual VA care. Over 10 weeks, intervention participants were given 1 hour phone calls providing information on symptoms of dementia, how to handle those symptoms, skill tips on care giving and self-care skills. They also took part in telephonic group support sessions. The 4 main issues addressed in the TEP phone are:
- Communication, both verbal and non-verbal;
- Properly structured interactions between the care-giver and the patient;
- Handling patient behavior problems; and
- Determining what resources will be needed for future care.
Had the TEP program continued past the 10 week research period, those costs may not have dissipated as they did at the 1 year mark. Researchers believe even periodic check-ups and care management may have helped maintain the initial savings. More testing will certainly be done to learn the extent of the program’s benefits.