The Department of Veterans Affairs is looking ahead to 2015 to grow and improve its telehealth program, building on the momentum gained in 2014. With millions of veteran clients, a national reach and the power of the federal government behind it, the VA is by definition a potent proving ground for the advancement of telehealth and an important partner for healthcare providers.
This past October, the VA announced its national telehealth programs served more than 690,000 veterans during fiscal year 2014. “We are exploring how we can more efficiently and effectively deliver health care services to better serve our Veterans and improve their lives,” VA Secretary Robert A. McDonald said in a press release of the agency’s plans. “Telehealth is one of those areas we have identified for growth.”
The number of veterans served by telehealth programs equals about 12 percent of the overall veteran population enrolled for VA healthcare, and accounted for more than 2 million telehealth visits. Of that number, approximately 55 percent were veterans living in rural areas with limited access to VA healthcare.
[See also: Top 10 mHealth News stories of 2014.]
With more veterans seeking healthcare, telehealth is rapidly becoming an attractive option, especially for those who don’t have a VA healthcare facility close to home. “We have to adapt to meet Veterans wherever their needs are,” McDonald said.
In 2015, VA telehealth offerings will expand through the $16.3 billion VA reform bill, signed in August. The bill authorizes the department to accelerate the deployment of mobile clinics through the use of telemedicine, which can allow veterans to avoid traveling long distances and reduce wait time to access medical attention. “(The) VA is now recognized as one of the world leaders in this new area of health care,” the agency said at the time.
The VA’s website outlines the agency’s efforts to expand telemedicine programs. The VA lists telesurgery, telerehabilitation, telementalhealth and telecardiology as just some of the special services offered.
"The VA is increasing its commitment to making sure more veterans have access to telehealth," Ellen Edmonson, VA's deputy chief consultant for telehealth, told iHealthBeat.
There are more than 44 clinical specialties offered to veterans through the VA’s telehealth programs.
For example, the teleaudiology program, which serves a large population of veterans living with hearing loss, has grown from serving 1,016 veterans in fiscal year 2011 to more than 10,589 in fiscal year 2014
According to VA officials, telehealth programs have helped lead to a 34 percent reduction in readmissions and a 42 percent drop in bed days in FY 2014.
Clinical video telehealth received a 94 percent satisfaction rate in a FY 2014 survey of about 10,000 participating veterans, while store-and-forward teledermatology received a 92 percent patient satisfaction rate and teleretinology garnered a 94 percent patient satisfaction rate, according to VA officials..
“A brick-and-mortar facility,” McDonald said in a prepared statement, “is not the only option for healthcare.”