VA sees a surge in veterans' use of telehealth services

More than 900,000 veterans used the agency's virtual care in 2019, with their use of the VA's Video Connect app up 235% in the same period.
By Nathan Eddy
12:53 PM

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has announced a 17 percent jump in telehealth visits compared with the previous fiscal year, and says the VA delivered more than 2.6 million episodes of telehealth care in FY 2019.

The VA report revealed more than 900,000 veterans used the agency's telehealth services in 2019, with their use of the VA Video Connect app, which connects Veterans to their care teams through a secure video session, jumping 235% in the same period.

"More than 200,000 or approximately two-thirds of the 294,000 VA Video Connect appointments in FY 2019 were for tele-mental health visits," said VA officials.

The agency noted that more than 99,000 Veterans used the app, which connects Vets with their health care team using encryption to ensure a secure and private session, at home, thereby saving a trip to a medical facility.

The announcement comes as the VA completed the first full fiscal year of VA's Anywhere to Anywhere initiative, a program allowing VA health care teams to treat vets regardless of their location, including across state lines.

The initiative, announced in May 2018, also expanded Veterans' access to critical care that can be provided virtually, including mental health care and suicide prevention, by allowing quicker and easier access to VA mental health providers through telehealth.

Following the October launch of the Accessing Telehealth through Local Areas Stations , or ATLAS, program in Eureka, Montana, which provides timely care for veterans who live long distances from VA medical centers or have poor internet connectivity at home, the VA is planning an expansion of the program in the coming months.

The expansion will see additional locations open as pilot sites in select American Legion posts, Veterans of Foreign Wars posts and Walmart stores across the country.

A JAMIA Open study published in August concluded that VA efforts to bring tablet-based telehealth to vets successfully reached them in rural areas and extended care to patients with mental health conditions; a separate study published by Psychiatric Services found the VA's efforts also led to improved clinical efficiency.

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.

Despite the advances in telehealth services, Veterans Health Administration medical facilities are facing an enormous challenge as they scan and enter medical documentation into patients' electronic health records.

According to an audit from the Office of the Inspector General for the Department of Veterans Affairs, VHA medical facilities have a cumulative medical document backlog equivalent to more than five miles of stacked paper, with nearly 600,000 electronic files dating back to 2016.

"We want every Veteran to have a choice to schedule an in-person, telephone or video visit with their providers depending on their preferences for health care delivery," said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said in a statement. "VA is committed to offering Veterans the health care they deserve, whenever and wherever they need it."

Nathan Eddy is a healthcare and technology freelancer based in Berlin.
Email the writer:
Twitter: @dropdeaded209

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