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Telehealth News

VA Expands its Use of mHealth Strategies

By Ryan Mcaskill

Through mobile devices and telehealth solutions, the VA is expanding its use of mHealth services.

Last week, we reported on the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) budget submission for the fiscal year 2016. The numbers show that the organization is increasing its investment in telehealth services to support medical care. Between 2015 and 2017, the budget is expected to increase from $986 million on telehealth in 2014 and it is expected to increase each year until it reaches $1.372 billion in 2017.

- Through the Connected Health initiative, which aims to improve veteran health services through the use of mobile devices and telehealth services, the VA has provided more than two million remote consultants in 2014, 45 percent were used by veterans in rural areas. That number is going to increase in the years to follow.

Recently, the Washington Post explored the mHealth and telehealth services used by the VA and what a struggle it can be to make widespread changes. Specifically, the article focused on the nonprofit “Give an Hour,” that helps the VA with these technologies to support veterans mental-health needs. Through a network of volunteers, veterans can use mobile devices and video sessions to access free services.

At a press event, Barbara Van Dahlen, the president of Give an Hour, spoke about the stigma that surrounds mental health and how using these services from the comfort of their livingrooms, can help change the tide.

“Technology allows people from the privacy of their own computer screen to say, ‘I don’t know if I’m depressed, but I’d like to find out more,’ ” Van Dahlen said.

Telehealth is just one way that the VA is embracing new technology. Last year, the VA distributed more than 10,000 tablets to clinicians nationwide. It also launched an application store that now houses 17 dedicated health and wellness apps, most of which are mobile enabled. So far, they have been downloaded 300,000 times and nearly half of the veterans undergoing prolonged exposure therapy for posttraumatic stress syndrome use one of these apps for support.  

While these results are positive, it took serious work to get to this point. Over the last few years there have been several negative headlines about the VA. This included massive patient backlog and veterans passing away of preventable illnesses while waiting.

“The reality of being the largest integrated health-care system in the country means that making progress is a huge undertaking,” said Julia Hoffman, VA’s national director of mobile health.

Hoffman added that this has created a cautious approach to mobile devices. Many of these systems are independent and not integrated with the agency’s database or patient records, which are still using older IT infrastructure.

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