There are close ties between telemedicine and the Veterans Administration, and if VA Secretary Robert Wilkie gets his way, there will be a much stronger connection in the near future. Secretary Wilkie was on Capitol Hill in March of this year to ask for more than $1 billion in federal funding so that telehealth services provided to veterans could be significantly expanded.

His reasoning was that telehealth is one of the most important tools in the medical arsenal for supplying healthcare to veterans when and where care is needed, especially for those veterans in rural settings. In the year 2018, the VA enabled more than 1 million virtual visits between doctors and patients under its program, and the success of the program is what has encouraged Secretary Wilkie to seek the additional funding.

Uses for the VA budget request

There are currently about 170 hospitals in the VA network, along with well over a thousand sites providing outpatient care. The huge budget request made of Congress would be used to help provide needed healthcare to more than 18 million veterans in this country, while also reducing the workload on the VA network of hospitals and clinics.

The VA has also introduced a platform called VA Video Connect, which enabled 105,000 app-based video visits in the year 2018, between veterans and providers. Another program launched in 2018 was the VA’s Anywhere to Anywhere VA Health Care Initiative, which allows VA-sanctioned providers to perform veteran treatment via telemedicine, regardless of where the patient or the doctor might be situated. This program bypasses all state laws which might tend to hinder telemedicine and connected care in general.

In another effort to expand telemedicine treatment for veterans, the VA has partnered with Verizon, T-Mobile, Philips, and Walmart so that care for veterans can be expanded through telehealth and mHealth platforms. Another reason for the big push by the VA to firmly establish telehealth as part of its treatment capabilities, is the need to focus more on tele-mental health, which would seek to prevent veteran suicides.

Since roughly 20 veterans commit suicide each day in the U.S., and 14 of these 20 are not receiving any kind of care, it is essential that something be done to stem the tide of veteran suicides. Where such programs have already been installed, they have met with resounding success, because veterans greatly prefer the telehealth format, as opposed to reporting to a larger institution like a hospital.

Easier for veterans

The strong relationship between telemedicine and the Veterans Administration is further evidenced by the VA Telehealth Services Program, which provides opportunities for veterans to be in touch with their personal doctor’s office from almost any location. Many veterans have already taken advantage of this program when they notice something is wrong with their vital signs being monitored. Even though they may be far from home, they can quickly make contact with their doctor’s office to discuss the situation with medical personnel, so it can be handled in a video exchange.

In some cases, this calls for a tweak of prescriptions, and in other cases it might be an indicator of something more serious, which calls for the patient to seek nearby medical assistance. Another huge advantage of this capability is that by connecting with a patient’s home doctor’s office, which is already familiar with his/her complete medical history, that whole history would not need to be explained to an entirely new physician.

It also gives veterans a certain amount of mobility, because it relieves them from the necessity of being tied to a specific doctor’s office and a specific location. Since the Veterans Administration has come under increasing pressure to provide better healthcare for veterans, this is one way that care can be delivered, in a manner that’s both cost-effective and which achieves better patient outcomes. The fact that more than 1 million telehealth visits were arranged in 2018 should be a strong indicator of the success of this program, and should provide a glimpse into what the future might be for telemedicine and the Veterans Administration.

Encore Telemedicine 

If your VA clinic or hospital has not yet been setup to provide telemedicine care for veterans, it will probably be extremely advantageous for you to do so. Not only would you be in sync with the clearly indicated direction of the Veteran’s Administration, but you would be able to provide significant relief to your over-worked VA staff of medical personnel, while also providing better care to veteran patients.