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New Telemedicine Legislation Could Expand Care among Veterans

By Vera Gruessner

- The telehealth field continues to grow in prominence across the nation as more states adopt telemedicine legislation and expand use of videoconferencing along with remote monitoring technology throughout hospitals and clinics. Last week, U.S. Senators Joni Ernst (R-IA) and Mazie Hirono (D-HI) introduced legislation into Congress called Veterans E-Health & Telemedicine Support Act of 2015 (VETS Act).

Telehealth Technology Legislation

The telemedicine legislation is meant to expand access to care among veterans living in rural areas or those who are disabled, as it would allow these individuals to communicate with their healthcare providers without needing to step foot inside a medical facility, according to a news release from the office of Senator Joni Ernst.

“Our nation has a moral obligation to provide the best care for all veterans,” Senator Hirono stated in the news release. “This legislation would eliminate the added burden of traveling long distances, or even to different states, in order to see a doctor. The VETS Act will build on a VA telemedicine program that is proven to work and removes barriers to accessing care particularly for veterans in rural areas like Hawaii’s Neighbor Islands.”

Instead of spending the time traveling to a hospital or clinic and waiting for a doctor to see them, these veterans would be able to use technology to both speak with their physicians and have their health monitored remotely.

Currently, the law established for telemedicine use within the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has a variety of obstacles for the veteran population when it comes to seeking virtual care. For example, the VA can waive state license requirements for telemedicine use only if the patient and provider are present in a federally owned medical establishment.

Also, the VA requires that any home-based telehealth services be conducted only when the patient and the physician reside in the same state. This can pose problems for those veterans who are seeking healthcare assistance from specialists located in other states.

These types of obstacles really limit healthcare access to disabled veterans or those living in rural states. Many are left to travel great distances in order to receive the treatment they require. It could be simplified if these patients are given the right to speak with medical specialists by phone or video camera. With the right telemedicine legislation, access to care for veterans could be expanded.

Specifically, the VETS Act will take part in eliminating these challenges by enabling qualified VA medical professionals to conduct telehealth visits across state lines. This includes assisting veterans in need of mental health services access psychiatric help from the comfort of their own home.

Last year, telehealth care within the Department of Veterans Affairs rose by a total of 18 percent, which led to more than 12 percent of veterans receiving their treatment and follow-up appointments via telemedicine services. Additionally, the results show that the majority – 88 percent – of veterans who used telehealth technology were satisfied with the help they received.

“The bipartisan Veterans E-Health & Telemedicine Support Act moves us one step closer to achieving more affordable, patient-centered health care that our veterans deserve by embracing telehealth services to offer physician care and health treatment beyond the walls of a VA facility,” Senator Ernst said in a public statement. “Telehealth care is an innovative and important means to meet the wide-ranging needs of veterans in Iowa and nationwide, including the invisible struggles of mental healthcare.”

This telemedicine legislation will make a big impact for expanding access to care among the veteran populations. Additionally, it will likely bring about a greater focus on bringing telehealth services to move beyond state lines.

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