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Virtual health care use in Iowa skyrockets during coronavirus pandemic

Since January, the VA Central Iowa Health Care System reported a 904% increase in video-to-home services. VA telehealth staff said COVID-19 is behind the surge.

DES MOINES, Iowa — Telehealth visits across Iowa are surging because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced a more than 1,000% increase in the use of their telehealth program, VA Video Connect. 

Since January, the VA Central Iowa Health Care System reports a 904% increase in video-to-home services. 

"Our team calls the COVID-19 influx the telehealth Super Bowl," said Pamela South, central Iowa telehealth nurse manager at VA Central Iowa Health Care System. "We won because we're able to provide this service to every veteran who is in our catchment."

For about a year, Joe Paullus, who is a VA Central Iowa Health Care System patient, has had regular video visits with his health care team.

"Since I've started doing the telehealth, I've lost 20 pounds," Paullus said. "I'm just about down to the goal that I want to be." 

Through telehealth visits, health care workers monitor Paullus's weight, blood sugar, blood pressure and even his activity level. 

"When I do my telehealth, a picture will come up with numbers," Paullus said. "I just push in the number of steps I did that day then they get it down in Des Moines."

VA telehealth technicians said many veterans are already comfortable using the technology to have a telehealth visit, and those that are hesitant usually realize it's very simple once someone walks them through the process. 

"Once they see how easy it is, they love it," said Janna Arndt, an advanced telehealth clinical technician at VA Central Iowa Health Care System. "They love being able to see us on the other side when we do a test call. They don't get to see us half the time and they don't get to have those connections."

RELATED: Gov. Reynolds says local face mask mandates should be 'consistent' with state's public health proclamation

If a veteran doesn't have a webcam, the VA will send them an iPad. 

They also send medical equipment like blood pressure cuffs and thermometers if needed. 

The VA sent Paullus an iPad and other equipment. 

"They walked me through everything," Paullus said. If I had a problem, I call this one number and they tell me which one to push for the conference or whatever."

Paullus lives in Dumont, which is almost two hours north of Des Moines. 

Without telehealth, he said he doesn't think he'd be sticking to his health plan. 

"I don't really want to drive 100 miles of blood pressure your blood sugar reading," Paullus said. 

If you're interested in learning more about telehealth services at the VA, click here. 

RELATED: COVID-19 in Iowa by the numbers: Cases, testing, deaths

WATCH: Complete coronavirus coverage from Local 5 on YouTube.