Telehealth Device Helps Avoid Suicide in Veterans With Schizophrenia

VA’s Challenge: Product Being Discontinued By Manufacturer

By Annette M. Boyle

When the home telehealth device was first introduced in 2012, Denene Collura, RN, of the VA Nebraska-Western Iowa Health Care System showed off a Health Buddy, which allows patients, including those with schizophrenia, to self-monitor their conditions. VA photo

PITTSBURGH—Telehealth tools are showing promise in helping save the lives of schizophrenic veterans with a high risk of suicide, but the VA is facing a setback in using them. 

A product for patients with schizophrenia as well as other patients with chronic diseases has been discontinued by the manufacturer, leaving continuation or expansion of some successful programs in doubt. Last year, Bosch announced it was shutting down its U.S. subsidiary Robert Bosch Healthcare and consolidating its operations in Germany. In the process, the manufacturer closed its telehealth business, which offered the Health Buddy telehealth platform the VA used to remotely manage depression, congestive heart failure,  diabetes, hypertension, post-traumatic stress disorder and other conditions. Bosch continued to support Health Buddy applications at the VA through the end of 2016.

While the VA offers other telehealth equipment and will likely replace the discontinued monitors with alternatives, Health Buddy had generally high marks among independent evaluators, patients and VA clinicians. The Commonwealth Fund cited the program as one which other healthcare organizations could replicate successfully, even in highly fragmented environments. The fund’s case study praised the VA’s algorithm that matches patients to appropriate technologies. It also noted that “[t]he home telehealth devices have been chosen for their simple user interface design and ease-of-use to ensure they can be implemented systematically among a very large number of patients and perform reliably.”

Comments on veteran discussion boards and blogs called Health Buddy “a very useful program that can be developed into a key asset for our American veterans” and reported it had fewer false positives than the phone-based telehealth systems. Some found the daily questions irritating, but others noted that when an answer indicates a veteran needs assistance, the system “lists ways for the veteran to cope or manage symptoms and will prompt him or her to call their telehealth coordinator.” Responses are also monitored by the VA healthcare facility and abnormal responses will prompt a call from a care coordinator.

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