| Naval Medical Center San Diego Implements a New Way to Treat Patients

By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Chelsea A. Radford, NMCSD Public Affairs


SAN DIEGO - More than 100 Naval Medical Center San Diego (NMCSD) patients have benefited through a new treatment program regardless of their physical location.


Implemented in March, the Mental Health department began treating patients using video teleconferencing (VTC). The new program called Telemedicine allows providers at NMCSD to evaluate and treat patients at Naval Hospital Lemoore (NHL) when the NHL psychiatrist is deployed. The psychiatrists at NMCSD provide treatment for mental illness including post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and suicidal thoughts.


“We pride ourselves in being involved in the patient’s care and knowing what they need. We work closely with the patient and their command to come up with a treatment plan to ensure that we’re doing the best thing for each individual,” said Cmdr. (Dr.) David M. Oliver, department head of Mental Health.


Each patient’s VTC treatment session varies according to individual needs. Telemedicine treats patients for illnesses such as: adjustment disorders, deployment and operational stress, as well as depression and anxiety. Typically patients were seen three to eight times over the six month period. The usual schedule for the VTC psychiatry clinic was two mornings each week, but providers at NMCSD were always available for any emergency evaluation either via VTC or by phone.


“By establishing video teleconference capability at Lemoore we’re able to see the patient over television and provide medical services that way,” said Oliver.


Telemedicine, also known at telepsychiatry, allows patients and doctors to communicate on a personal level despite the distance between both hospitals. The goal of the program is to have patients receive treatment without having to travel long distances for care.


“It’s easy for us to set it up this way and provide the support and the backfill coverage patients need while their provider is deployed,” said Oliver. “It’s much better for both the individual patient and the psychiatrist, because the patient can receive treatment without being uprooted and sent somewhere to be seen.”


The process to be seen by a provider at NMCSD via telepsychiatry is simple, with the patient initially visiting their primary care manager.


“After the patient goes to their primary care manager, they can then be referred to the mental health clinic. If the psychiatrist is not there and it is determined that the patient requires a psychiatric evaluation and care, they can be then be referred for treatment through video teleconferencing,” said Oliver.


Currently, the program is available to active duty service members, but Oliver stated it could be used to treat beneficiaries overseas who lack local resources.


“NMCSD’s goal is to have the ability to provide telepsychiatric support for backfill coverage to any of the outlying hospitals on the West Coast,” said Oliver. “We’re hoping that by doing that, we can reduce some of the Navy’s travel costs and increase access to care for our beneficiaries.”


Another benefit to the program is the ability to maintain the patient’s care plan on a continuous basis.


“I think it's very important to have that continuity of care for patients undergoing mental health concerns and issues,” said Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Gina R. Buffaloe, a psychiatric technician at NHL. “The VTC appointments allow them to continue to be seen locally, continue their medication and address all of their mental health needs.”


The mental health department at NMCSD is also using VTC to provide continuing medical education to Naval Hospital Camp Pendleton and Naval Hospital Twentynine Palms’ mental health staffs.


“The ability to fulfill the needs of our patients via VTC is quite amazing,” said Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class David M. Wilder, a psychiatric technician at NHL. “Although it took some time to get accustomed to it, the process is simple and the results are fantastic. It definitely makes me feel good about the job we do in mental health.”


For more information on the mental health services at NMCSD, please visit http://www.med.navy.mil/sites/nmcsd/Pages/default.aspx  or call the Mental Health Department at (619) 532-5761.


For more information on the mental health services at NHL, please call (559) 998-4474.