A distance medicine program at one area hospital is making it easier for more and more veterans to get to a doctor.

It’s the telehealth program at the Oscar Johnson VA Medical Center in Iron Mountain. Staff members demonstrated it for us by calling the Marquette VA clinic. Telehealth uses video conferencing to keep patients from having to travel long distances for many types of appointments.

“We have seven outreach centers where the patients can go,” Oscar Johnson VA Medical Center telehealth coordinator Jeanne Johnson said. “We can connect them through telemedicine with Madison, Milwaukee (and) three facilities in the Chicago area.”

The medical center has been performing telemedicine in one form or another since 1996. Nearly 4,000 patients used the system last year for more than 10,000 appointments. Both figures have risen sharply since 2010.

“Being rural up here, we don’t have a lot of specialties at our medical center, so it is much more convenient,” Johnson said. “It saves the patient time and money to be able to see those specialty doctors without traveling.”

Younger veterans tell Johnson it’s much easier to take about an hour off from work for a telehealth appointment than to take a full day to visit Milwaukee or elsewhere.