Veterans get look at emerging VA telehealth system

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The Department of Veterans Affairs provided representatives of some of the nation’s leading veterans service organizations Thursday with a demonstration of the agency’s emerging telehealth system and clinical video telehealth scheduling software, both of which are designed to improve access to VA health services for veterans.

VA’s telehealth programs remain among the largest and most comprehensive in the nation, with more than 690,000 veterans taking part in more than 2 million virtual appointments during fiscal year 2014.

“Today’s demonstration is an important part of our ongoing conversation with our [veterans service organizations] partners in developing the tools that ensure veterans have access to the quality care and services they have earned,” VA Secretary Robert McDonald said. “Telehealth is rapidly becoming an attractive option, especially for veterans who do not have a VA health care facility close to home.”

Bill Rausch, political director for the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America — one of the largest post-9/11 veterans organizations, with more than 300,000 members — was present for the demo at the Washington, D.C., VA Medical Center. “I think what they showed us today is the type of 21st century service that our generation expects from the VA or from any health care organization,” Rausch said in a telephone interview with FedScoop.

According to Rausch, VA officials presented impressive adoption rates for telehealth services, claiming at least 717,040 veterans had taken advantage of the new technology during the last fiscal year. VA officials said that is a 12.6 percent improvement over the previous year and 45 percent of those who were able to access VA health care services using the telehealth system lived in a rural area where it was difficult to get to a VA medical center. Rausch said he is also optimistic about VA’s plans to use the technology for a broader range of counseling services, including post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health issues.

VA received a $23 million funding increase for telehealth programs in the fiscal year 2015 budget, bringing the agency’s total investment in telehealth to $567 million for the year. VA also is using funding from the $16.3 billion VA reform bill signed in August to build additional clinics, many of which are offering new telehealth options. The clinics will allow veterans to access medical expertise from specialists who might be located at hospitals hundreds of miles away. Known as Asynchronous, or Store-and-Forward Telehealth, the concept involves acquiring medical data (like medical images, vital signs and voice recordings) and then transmitting the data to a doctor or medical specialist at a convenient time for assessment offline.

The demonstration Thursday also featured a presentation on VA’s new clinical video telehealth scheduling software, which is designed to improve VA’s efficiency in scheduling patients for telehealth consultations. The software was deployed last month and VA schedulers have been training on the new system, according to VA.

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Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), Departments, telehealth, VistA
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