Veterans Affairs, Walmart open latest telehealth pilot site

It's part of the VA's Accessing Telehealth through Local Area Stations, or ATLAS, initiative, which will provide clinical services including primary care, mental health and social work.
By Nathan Eddy
11:38 AM

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and retail giant Walmart have opened the latest location as part of a joint effort help Vets in rural areas get better access to medical services, the first location for a new telehealth pilot program.

WHY IT MATTERS
The store, located in Asheboro, North Carolina, is part of a public-private affiliation whereby Walmart donated equipment and space allowing Veterans to meet with a VA provider in a private room through video technology.

It's all part of the VA's Accessing Telehealth through Local Area Stations, or ATLAS, services initiative, which will provide clinical services – which the VA notes will vary by location – including primary care, nutrition, mental health and social work. 

Other telehealth pilot sites are located in Wisconsin, Michigan and Iowa, and the VA noted there were more than 1.3 million video telehealth encounters with more than 490,000 Veterans last year.

In addition to Walmart, ATLAS sites are currently located at American Legion posts and Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Posts, allowing Vets to connect through the VA Video Connect platform.

The app also works on a wide range of device that have an Internet connection and a web camera, including Windows-based PCs and laptops, Windows mobile devices, iOS mobile devices and Android mobile devices.

The VA has also been working with companies like T-Mobile and Philips to pave the way for additional telehealth services for Vets.

THE LARGER TREND
Despite the department's 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.

However, VA efforts to connect Vets with medical services via telehealth technology are gaining steam and showing tangible benefits, according to two recent studies.

A JAMIA Open study published in August concluded VA efforts to bring tablet-based telehealth to vets 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.

ON THE RECORD
"This type of collaboration is the way of the future," VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said in a statement. "Veterans need the expansion of choice, and this partnership is vital to affording them convenient access to VA health care services where they live."