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Study OK’d for Phoebe’s PTSD program

Steven Ziemba, left, director of clinical research at Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital, and Lori-Ann Landry, project manager of PTSD, demonstrate the remote therapy system to be used in a study.

Steven Ziemba, left, director of clinical research at Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital, and Lori-Ann Landry, project manager of PTSD, demonstrate the remote therapy system to be used in a study.

ALBANY — Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital has been given the go-ahead to conduct a controlled study on the therapeutic treatment of post traumatic stress syndrome in military veterans.

The object of the study, said Steven Ziemba, director of clinical research at Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital, is to determine whether “remote” therapy to military veterans suffering from PTSD is as effective as face to face treatment in a formal atmosphere.

“The situation we see with these veterans is that many of them live a fair distance from our primary treatment center here in Albany,” Ziemba said. “We now have a system where the patients can receive therapy at any of our six remote locations using cameras and monitors. We want to find out if the remote system works as well as what we’ve done traditionally.”

Remote treatment is referred to as “telemedicine,” or in this case, “telepsychiatry,” said Lori-Ann Landry, project manager of PTSD. Landry said that telemedicine has been used for “quite some time” on oil rigs and at other remote locations.

In the case of PTSD treatment, however, none of the strictly medical features of the system, such as blood pressure or pulse rate analysis would be utilized. Therapy would consist of the patient speaking to a remote camera in the same way he or she would speak to a live therapist in the same room. A human therapist will exist in real time at Phoebe’s primary treatment center. Patient and doctor will communicate by cameras, speakers and monitors. Appointments will set in the normal way.

According to Ziemba, the study will consist of a control group of veterans, who will be treated for PTSD in the traditional face-to-face manner, and also the telepsychiatric group which will consist of approximately the same number of veterans, with PTSD. Both groups will be “randomized,” Ziemba said, to minimize skewing of the data.

U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop was instrumental in securing the $1.6 million required to fund the study until August 2012. According to Ziemba, the data from the study will then be analyzed and a determination will be made as to the success of the telepsychiatric therapy.

“Remote equipment is already in place to administer therapy sessions at Phoebe East, Phoebe West, Ashburn, Sylvester, Lee County and Camilla,” Landry said. “We’re ready to begin the study right now.”

Applications to participate in the study are being accepted now, according to Ziemba. Eligibility for military veterans requires that applicants be between the ages of 18 and 45, suffer from PTSD, and have served either in Iraq or Afghanistan. If an applicant has not been diagnosed with PTSD, but believes he or she may suffer from it, an evaluation for the disorder may be made, Ziemba said.

According to Ziemba, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder may develop after having witnessed a traumatic event in which the individual was threatened or feared for his or her life. Symptoms may include insomnia, nightmares, anxiety or panic attack, being started by loud noises, certain smells or sights. The symptoms may appear right away or manifest up to several years after the event.

To learn more about the PTSD study, call Ziemba at (229) 312-0284.