Telehealth rates won’t fade after pandemic, VA CIO says

Dominic Cussatt speaks May 22, 2018, at the Security Through Innovation Summit presented by McAfee and produced by FedScoop and CyberScoop. (FedScoop)

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After struggling for years with clinicians and patients reluctant to use virtual appointments in lieu of in-person medical visits, the Department of Veterans Affairs believes telehealth is finally starting to stick as an option for veterans seeking care.

Even as Department of Veterans Affairs medical facilities have re-opened to in-person visits, veterans are still choosing to use telehealth options at rates similar to those during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, acting VA CIO Dominic Cussatt told FedScoop during an interview Wednesday at FedTalks.

“This is going to be a permanent state for us at the VA,” Cussatt said. “Telehealth helps us reach so many people in very remote areas that have a hard time getting to our medical centers.”

Before COVID-19, the VA conducted roughly 40,000 telehealth visits a month. “Now we routinely conduct 40,000 per day,” Cussatt said.

“And we know that’s not going to go away, that we’re gonna we’re seeing that volume level off,” he said. “Even with facilities reopening and people getting back out to more face-to-face experiences, we’re seeing our numbers kind of stay level. So there’s definitely the demand out there.”

As of early August, the VA had conducted 11.8 million telehealth visits since the start of the pandemic, Cussatt said. “The pandemic really forced our hand,” he added.

That scale of telehealth support wouldn’t have been possible if not for the cloud, he said. “We quintupled our telehealth capability by upgrading our on-prem IT systems and expanding further into the cloud. So we were able to work with our vendor partners to very quickly turn around some site-specific upgrades and technology upgrades to accommodate this huge spike in telehealth use so that we can use the capability to the greatest extent we could.”

The VA had already made the move to the cloud prior to the pandemic, so “we were able to scale up to face the anticipate unanticipated needs of the pandemic with very little prior planning because the platforms were already there. And the capabilities were there, we just needed to scale up,” Cussatt said.

It also helps that veterans, who tend to be older, have had to become more in tune with modern tech during the pandemic.

“The veterans are really embracing this technology, learning how to use it,” Cussatt said. “And I think that’s going to keep them doing so for the long haul. So … if there’s any silver lining in the pandemic, it really helped us to expand our ability to reach more veterans and in farther reaches than we ever did before.”

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COVID-19, Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), Dominic Cussatt, telehealth
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