Program aims to improve medical outcomes for Chandler veterans

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December 9, 2015
Arizona Republic
Jamie Sheldon

A new pilot program in Chandler aims to improve health-care services for veterans.

The Chandler Fire, Health & Medical Department, in addition to responding to emergency medical calls, will link its veteran patients with Phoenix VA Healthcare System representatives in an effort to promote continued care.

The veterans' follow-up treatment will include at-home visits from two Chandler community paramedics who will assess the health-care needs of patients during teleconferences with VA nurse practitioners via mobile tablets.

The six-month pilot project, which was first introduced to Chandler officials by state Rep. Bob Robson back in February, was approved by the Chandler City Council on Monday. Since then, the Chandler community paramedics have conducted at least three veterans checkups alongside Phoenix VA Healthcare staff members.

"My role as a state legislator is not always about legislation," Robson said. "I think, in many cases, it's about bringing people together for a common good. In this case, it is about veterans."

Robson described the program as having many positives for the veterans community and said that the willingness of the VA is unique. He hopes that the collaboration may one day become commonplace nationwide.

"This takes a delivery of service right to the front door," Robson said. "Veterans don't have to go to the VA because the VA will be right there in their house talking to them, and then that's where the doctor comes in."

Dr. Hamed Abbaszadegan, the Phoenix VA's chief health informatics officer, said the project will expand tools and access already provided by the Phoenix VA and Chandler Fire, Health & Medical.

"We have long been engaged in telemedicine and electronic health records," Abbaszadegan said. "Our actual goals are to predict who will need the help and reach out to them before they call. It's all about improving care for the veteran."

Abbaszadegan said the face-to-face teleconferencing provided by the visiting paramedic is what makes the program so different.

The program will help enhance access to scheduling, follow-up medical services and reduce ER visits, preventing patients with chronic diseases or conditions from potentially worsening their current state, Abbaszadegan said.

Chandler Fire, Health & Medical Chief Jeff Clark, who said he is eager about the new project, said the more information being exchanged between the two groups, the better off the community will be.

"This type of program demonstrates that our partnership can get a lot more done to ensure the health of our community," Clark explained. "We can do better as a community than just wait until someone is in an emergency state to get help."

Clark said program costs are being absorbed by the current operating budget. If successful, Chandler officials will have to come up with a long-term funding plan, he said.

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