- The Department of Veterans’ Affairs has reported reaching a major milestone in its efforts to improve veterans’ access to care through telemedicine and telehealth.
According to the VA, more than 1 million healthcare encounters between veterans and care providers were logged via video-based telemedicine during FY 2018, which ran from October 2017 to September 2017. That’s about half of the 2.3 million telehealth encounters reported in that time span, and it represents a 20 percent increase over the previous year.
“VA’s telehealth capabilities are bridging the care gap for many Veterans,” VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said in a press release. “This technology gives Veterans access to the timely, quality care they deserve, without having to travel great distances to a VA facility. Time spent traveling is time away from Veterans’ jobs and families.”
Roughly half (582,000) of the video visits were conducted with veterans living in rural areas, according to the VA.
The announcement marks the latest stage in a campaign aimed at helping the nation’s estimated 18.2 million veterans access healthcare when and where they most need it, while also taking the strain off of the VA’s network of 170 hospitals and 1,063 outpatient care sites.
The VA received an important boost in 2018 with the launch of the “Anywhere to Anywhere VA Health Care Initiative,” unveiled in 2017 by then-VA Secretary David Shulkin. Among other things, the program enables VA-sanctioned providers to treat veterans via telemedicine no matter where the doctor or patient are located, bypassing state laws that might hinder connected care.
The agency has also been touting its mobile health platform, especially the VA Video Connect app that enables veterans to access healthcare services from a mobile device. According to the VA, 105,300 video visits were recorded in FY 2018 through the mHealth app.
As noted, video only accounts for about half of the connected health encounters. According to the agency, the other half consists of asynchronous (store-and-forward) telehealth visits and remote patient monitoring programs.
VA officials expect to see continued growth in the telehealth program, especially as the agency forges new partnerships to increase access. In December 2018, the VA unveiled collaborations with Walmart, T-Mobile and Philips.
“These types of events will help accelerate our shared journey to fully integrated, seamless access to healthcare no matter where a veteran resides,” Wilkie said at the time. “Indeed, from anywhere to anywhere. We thank our industry and community partners for their commitment to improving veterans’ healthcare.”