VA taps telehealth to treat vets at home

By Bernie Monegain
10:38 AM

The Department of Veterans Affairs will provide telehealth services to veterans in their homes, workplaces and other convenient locations through a new initiative. VA will work with Boston-based American Well, which won the VA Innovation Initiative (VAi2) competition.

The project will focus on using American Well's Online Care system and aims to make needed care more accessible, convenient and effective.

[Q&A: Lt. Col. Geesey on telemedicine in the theater of war.]

VAi2 selects, funds, and evaluates new ideas from VA employees, academia and the private sector.

The agreement between the VA and American Well, announced on Nov. 4, marks the first deployment of American Well's telehealth technology by the U.S. government. The initiative will make it possible for VA providers to care for veterans using telehealth technology for behavioral health, oncology and perioperative care.

"VA is dedicated to providing veterans with the highest quality, most patient-centric care possible – and we see technology as a critical enabler in our mission," said Jonah Czerwinski, director of VAi2. "This initiative with American Well will allow VA to use telehealth to deliver needed care directly into the homes of veterans, who might otherwise struggle with barriers such as distance, mobility or the need to take time away from work or family."

The Online Care service will aim to improve access by allowing veterans to have online visits with their own providers, as well as multi-disciplinary care teams when needed, through the Internet. Using two-way video, secure text chat and/or phone, providers will be able to review patients' clinical information, discuss symptoms, provide medical advice, and diagnose and prescribe medications as appropriate. At the end of each online consultation, a record will be captured automatically that the veteran can share with appropriate healthcare providers, maintaining continuity of care.

[Related: VA, DoD pursue PCMH model. See also: VA, Tricare tout telehealth apps. ]

Specifically, American Well's initiative with VA will result in the use of its telehealth solution to establish three "online practices" to benefit veterans:

  • In Minnesota, the Minneapolis VA Health Care System (MHCS) will establish an online Behavioral Health Practice that allows its providers to treat existing patients who are remotely located from the MHCS, with the goal of increasing the patient-centeredness of mental health services treatment, while improving veterans' access to convenient and affordable care.
  • In Nebraska, the Nebraska-Western Iowa Health Care System (NWIHCS) will establish an online Oncology Practice to bring healthcare providers from the Omaha VA Medical Center (VAMC) together with cancer patients across the state, many of whom live in rural areas and are currently required to drive long distances for their appointments.
  • The NWIHCS will also establish an online Perioperative Practice to allow surgeons to deliver post-operative care to patients via Online Care, as part of a collaborative team that also includes staff providing home-based primary and extended care.

"VA is renowned for embracing the latest technologies in service of those who have served our country,” said Danielle Russella, executive vice president of customer solutions at American Well. “We are honored to work with them and support the provision of quality, accessible healthcare for veterans.”