VA efforts to bring tablet-based telehealth to vets see positive results
Two recent studies indicate a plan by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to use distributed tablet devices to provide telehealth benefits to patients is working.
A JAMIA Open study published in August concluded the initiative successfully reached veterans in rural areas and patients with mental health conditions, while a separate study published by Psychiatric Services found the VA’s efforts also led to improved clinical efficiency.
WHY IT MATTERS
The most common home telehealth devices the VA uses are ones that make it possible to connect a veteran patient to a VA hospital using messaging devices that collect information about symptoms and vital signs from the veteran’s own home.
Geographic and travel barriers are potentially the greatest obstacle to VA access, with a VHA Office of Rural Health report noting of the approximate 9 million enrolled veterans receiving VA healthcare, nearly a third live in rural, highly rural or insular island areas.
ON THE RECORD
“Telehealth technology remains a vital platform to provide high-quality healthcare to all veterans, regardless of challenges they may face in accessing care,” VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said in a statement. “VA’s tablet program is a model that other networked healthcare systems across the country can mirror, and demonstrates the potential of telehealth capabilities in the years to come.”
THE LARGER TREND
The news comes as the VA is undergoing a massive push toward digitalization. In June, the Department of Defense and the VA announced the creation of a special office to help centralize decision making as the VA makes its multibillion-dollar electronic health records upgrade.
Among the recent efforts is a mobile application called Launchpad, which helps streamline access for both vets and their caregivers, and coordinates various VA apps in one place, as well as enables easier sharing of EHR data and access to telehealth.
In July, the VA and telecommunications giant Verizon announced a plan to offer new telehealth access for veterans through a platform that connects veterans with their healthcare team.
The platform uses encryption to ensure a secure and private session, and users can then participate in video appointments or engage with health professionals using the built-in chat feature.
Overall, telehealth is set for a major expansion in the U.S. The Federal Communications Commission announced in June plans to vote to advance a $100 million Connected Care Pilot Program, enabling telehealth expansion for low-income Americans nationwide, including veterans and others in medically underserved areas.
Expansion of telehealth coverage and reimbursement at the state level has grown since 2017, according to the latest American Telemedicine Association study, though the report also indicated some states still lack the authority or resources needed to fully deploy telehealth across the state.
However, the results of a July J.D. Power survey suggest that, for the patients standing to gain the most from telehealth, services need to be positioned and explained as a way to reduce costs while maintaining a high level of care.