Video consultation provider American Well's iPhone app
As expected, the Department of Veterans Affairs plans to do away with copays for in-home telehealth services in an effort to increase access to the services for veterans with health conditions, who are frail or have difficulty traveling to healthcare facilities. According to the VA's notice in the Federal Register, unless the department received compelling negative comments about the plans, the copayments will be eliminated starting May 7th.
The VA lists a number of benefits that the technology provides: increased access to specialist consultations, improved access to primary and ambulatory care, reduced waiting times, and decreased veteran travel.
"Specifically, the regulation is amended to exempt in-home video telehealth care from having any required copayment," the VA writes. "This removes a barrier that may have previously discouraged veterans from choosing to use in-home video telehealth as a viable medical care option."
The VA describes in-home video telehealth care as a service that connects a veteran to a VA health care professional using real-time videoconferencing and (sometimes) other peripheral equipment. The service aims to:
"Replicate aspects of face-to-face assessment and care delivery that do not require the health care professional to make an examination requiring physical contact. However, in-home video telehealth care is provided in a veteran's home, eliminating the need for the veteran to travel to a clinical setting. Using telehealth capabilities, a VA clinician can assess elements of a patient's care, such as wound management, psychiatric or psychotherapeutic care, exercise plans, and medication management. The clinician may also monitor patient self-care by reviewing vital signs and evaluating the patient's appearance on video."
The VA hopes the move helps "to make the home a preferred place of care, whenever medically appropriate and possible." The VA also argues that eliminating the copays should be applauded since these services are not used to provide "complex care" and it is significantly less expensive and resource-constraining than in-person, outpatient visits.
Encouraging the adoption of in-home video consultations is an important first step. Perhaps asynchronous telehealth services -- that do not replicate in-office visits -- are next?