The Department of Veterans Affairs has recently announced a new telehealth initiative that includes regulatory changes to go along with new mobile apps to expand healthcare services to the nation’s veterans.
The “Anywhere to Anywhere VA Health Care” initiative allows VA providers to treat veterans anywhere in the country using telehealth technology. Prior to passage, VA providers were barred from providing telehealth services across state lines. Making greater use of telemedicine can lower the cost of care while improving outcomes, facilitating efficient decision making and proactive care, and enabling better, more comprehensive patient data monitoring.
In keeping with his commitment to improve health services for veterans, President Trump hosted VA Secretary David Shulkin at the White House to roll out the announcement. Shulkin is a medical doctor and demonstrated some of the technologies for the President as part of the event that took place in early August.
Reaching out to vets in rural areas
“This will significantly expand access to care for our veterans, especially for those who need help in the area of mental health, which is a bigger and bigger request, and also in suicide prevention. It will make a tremendous difference for the veterans in rural locations in particular,” commented President Trump after viewing demonstrations of the new technologies.
“The new regulation will dramatically improve our current capabilities,” said Secretary Shulkin. “That means we’re going to be able to use VA providers in cities where there are a lot of doctors, and be able to use those doctors to help our veterans in rural areas where there aren’t many healthcare professionals,” he added.
As part of the announcement, Secretary Shulkin said the VA is working with the White House’s Office of American Innovation and the Department of Justice to issue a new regulation that allows providers to practice within the scope of their specialty anywhere in the country.
A dramatic expansion beyond current capabilities
A recent story on Eligibility.com showed that the VA treated more than 700,000 patients using telehealth services last year and covered at least 50 different specialties. In all, those patients made more than 2 million telehealth appointments. But the relaxing of regulations means that telehealth services will be able to dramatically expand beyond current capabilities.
“We’re removing regulations that have prevented us from doing this. We’re removing geography as a barrier so that we can speed up access to veterans and really honor our commitment to them,” said Shulkin.
The use of telemedicine has spread rapidly and has quickly become integrated into the regular operations of hospitals, specialty departments, home health agencies, and private physician offices. Telemedicine has become a multi-billion dollar industry with most every health care system in the United States leveraging it to reinvent how the nation implements health care.
Currently, more than half of all U.S. hospitals use telemedicine to engage patients remotely – from monitoring vital signs to full-fledged consultations at a distance. Even a basic webcam can allow critically ill patients access to a world-class team of physicians who could be thousands of miles away.
VA also debuts new VA Video Connect and VAR apps
In addition to the regulatory change, the VA also has debuted a new mobile application called VA Video Connect, which allows veterans to connect with more that 300 VA providers in 67 hospitals and clinics across the country. This app works on any mobile device and will be rolled out to all VA providers and patients by October 2017.
Another mobile app called the Veterans Appointment Request (VAR) allows veterans to make appointments on their smartphones. It is currently active in 18 regions, but the VA is moving forward with expanding it to the rest of the country. During its initial rollout, Veterans used the app to book more than 4,000 appointments with their providers.
Earlier this year, Shulkin named suicide prevention as his top clinical priority. He also recently announced the expansion of VA mental health services to vets who received a less than honorable discharge from service. Citing the expansion of teleheath services Shulkin also commented that “this is one of those areas where we can really use that expertise.”
To find out more about VA’s telehealth program, go to the VA’s website here