VA is Improving Care and Convenience Through Telehealth

Published: February 28, 2019

Health ITVA

The VA conducted more than 2.29 million episodes of telehealth care in 2018, consisting of over 1 million video visits, according to VA’s Chief of the VHA Office of Connected Care, Dr. Neil Evans, at last month’s AFCEA Bethesda Health IT Summit.

Care into veterans’ homes is on the rise, due in part to the MISSION Act and VA’s Anywhere to Anywhere initiative. Part of the MISSION Act formalized a new authority that allows VA health care professionals to practice regardless of the location of the provider or patient.  This new authority allows providers to deliver care to patients across state lines via telehealth and virtual care.

Last year, 1.1 million health care encounters occurred using video technology, up from approximately 900,000 encounters in 2017. Additionally last year, VA provided over 100,000 incidents of care through their VA Video Connect program which provides a direct-to-veteran video solution.

VA has been a leader in telemedicine, but wants to continue to expand its usage.  For over 12 years, VA’s medical centers, hospitals, outpatient clinics and community-based veteran centers have used a hardwired telemedicine system to connect providers to patients. Capabilities include Tele-ICU and the National TeleStroke Program. However, the VA Video Connect Program, which began two years ago, allows VA to serve more patients with a limited provider pool. It is also allowing VA to better serve veterans who live in rural locations by connecting directly with them in their homes.

Other patient-focused telehealth applications in use at VA include: My HealtheVet, a web-based product that gives veterans information and tools to improve their health, including secure e-mail capability; Annie, a mobile app that provides SMS text-messaging capability for appointment reminders and health-monitoring prompts; and the Veteran Appointment Request app (VAR) which allows veterans to self-schedule primary-care appointments and request assistance in booking mental health appointments at VA facilities.

Dr. Evans mentioned in an interview in the fall with FedHealthIT that one of the challenges to advancing telehealth is adoption of new tools by clinicians, patients and caregivers. Clinician adoption of the new tools is critical to success.  As the provider community becomes aware of the new tools and technologies available to them and their patients, and they begin to see improved outcomes, adoption is likely to increase according to Evans. He also said that provider adoption will fuel patient adoption.  Patients are more likely to adopt a new app or technology if it is recommended by their doctor. These new tools also enhance the relationship between provider and patient by increasing communication between the two.

VA believes telehealth is a key element to improving health outcomes, care access and veteran satisfaction. The combination of the Anywhere to Anywhere initiative and the VA MISSION Act are giving the VA the ability to deliver care to veterans in their homes, workplaces, or through community partners.  The initiatives are also allowing veterans to seek care from specialty providers anywhere in the VA system. Approximately 13% of veterans received part of their care in 2018 through a telehealth platform, and these numbers are very likely to increase over time.