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VA Expands Telehealth to Treat Veterans Across State Lines

Veterans Administration Building in Washington, DC

In May of 2018, the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) introduced new legislation that would allow network healthcare providers to treat veterans using telehealth technology. The VA has extended this privilege across state lines.

During the announcement of the new legislation, the Veterans Administration also introduced VA Video Connect, a video conferencing app created especially for veterans and VA care providers. The innovations allow care providers to deliver services no matter where physicians or patients are located.

The Veterans Administration collaborated closely with the White House Office of American Innovation and the Department of Justice to draft the new law. They partnered from the original incarnation of the law as the "Authority of Healthcare Providers to Practice Telehealth" to its new name called "Anywhere to Anywhere." The ruling is essential for supporting initiatives designed to improve the accessibility and quality of healthcare services for veterans.

Anywhere to Anywhere is particularly helpful for increasing accessibility to services that care providers can easily deliver virtually, such as mental health and suicide prevention counseling. Now, using innovative telehealth technologies, care providers can offer veterans with faster and easier access to needed medical services.

The Expansion of Veteran Health Services

Before Anywhere to Anywhere became a reality, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs reached out to the White House to highlight several areas of critical care needs for veterans. Since then, the VA has successfully deployed several initiatives that improve healthcare services for former United States military personnel.

One initiative improves access and quality of care for veterans. The online tool allows veteran patients to view and compare facility wait times, patient reviews and performance reports with that of local hospitals. Providing veterans with the ability to analyze these metrics helps build trust and rapport amongst patients.

The latter is particularly important, especially if veterans are dealing with painful or uncertain situations. Mariea Snell, Assistant Professor of Nursing at Maryville University, highlighted this importance in a recent mHealth Intelligence article, saying “You’re building a level of trust with the patient. You’re there to tell them what’s going on and to make their treatment easier.”

Another initiative launched by the VA is a control center that benchmarks VA hospital clinical performance metrics, such as mortality rates, wait times, staffing rates and other provider qualities. The initiative leverages big data technology across the entire VA network.

As an example, if the control center identifies imminent or present staffing shortages at any facility, agency representatives can set up a job fair to hire personnel on the spot. When this exact scenario unfolded, the VA quickly hired 84 nurses to fill critical vacancies.

Another initiative that resulted from the Secretary of Veterans Affairs communication was the establishment of a 24-hour White House hotline to receive veteran complaints. The secretary’s recommendations also resulted in the publishing of "Best Care Everywhere," a report covering VA hospital best practices.

Caring for United States Veterans

In 2015, there were 18.9 million veterans in the United States. After an armed conflict, many soldiers must readjust to civilian life while managing physical and mental health issues, which can include addiction, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and brain injuries. These issues can considerably increase the likelihood of homelessness and suicide among veterans. During these kinds of challenges, social workers aid veterans and their families by assisting with their transition back into civilian life. They conduct assessments to understand the needs of returning soldiers, and, if necessary, they help soldiers who are in crisis with counseling and ongoing care.

Between 2006 and 2010, for instance, social workers treated 2.1 million veterans for behavioral health issues. However, by the VA estimates, that was only half the number of former soldiers who needed this vital assistance.

Telemedicine for the Nation's Warriors

To reach more veterans that are in need of services, the Phoenix VA Health Care System deploys a rolling clinic called the mobile medical unit (MMU) that reaches out to veteran patients throughout rural Arizona. The MMU helps them to connect with highly skilled healthcare providers who may deliver treatment from hundreds of miles away.

The wheelchair accessible mobile physician’s office is even equipped with his own generator. It features an exam room and exam table, a diagnostic lab and a restroom. There are also three semiprivate cubicles where veterans can individually participate in telehealth sessions with behavioral health specialists.

With this resource, MMU operators can facilitate complete clinical examinations for veterans. From a faraway location, a physician can use the MMU – for example – to identify basic health problems such as ear infections. The mobile unit makes it easier and faster for veterans who live in rural areas to receive medical services that can greatly improve their quality of life and overall well-being.

Telehealth services are becoming increasingly important for promoting positive health outcomes among veterans. As Baby Boomer population matures in tandem with the growing healthcare talent shortage and rising medical costs. Using emerging telehealth innovations, care providers can leverage the latest technologies to deliver better care and improve the health outcomes for the men and women who’ve dedicated their lives to protecting our nation.

About the Author

Sarah Daren's picture

With a Bachelor's in Health Science along with an MBA, Sarah Daren has a wealth of knowledge within both the health and business sectors. Her expertise in scaling and identifying ways tech can improve the lives of others has led Sarah to be a consultant for a number of startup businesses, most prominently in the wellness industry, wearable technology and health education. She implements her health knowledge into every aspect of her life with a focus on making America a healthier and safer place for future generations to come.

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