VA expanding telehealth care to rural cancer patients with new grant

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The Department of Veterans Affairs is expanding telehealth for cancer care in rural areas through a new partnership with the Bristol Myers Squibb Foundation.

The $4.5 million grant from the foundation will kickstart a national teleoncology center to reach rural veterans battling cancer. New programs developed by the center will use the VA Video Connect telehealth platform to bring cancer specialists to patients.

The new programs aim to connect more patients for discussion about clinical trials and genetic counseling, where doctors use DNA sequences to predict health risks. The grant will also be applied to train more Veterans Health Administration cancer specialists to use virtual health care systems, according to the department’s news release about the grant.

“Delivering innovative solutions through virtual care technologies is vital,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “The VA-Bristol Myers Squibb Foundation partnership will build on the Veterans Health Administration’s (VHA) recent telehealth expansion to establish a leading-edge hub for teleoncology which will serve as a model for oncology specialists in every health care system.”

Specifically how tech will bring cancer treatment to rural patients is still in development. More information will be unveiled during the America Society of Clinical Oncology conference in August. The VA already has some teleoncology programs in place, but none that can reach veterans in rural areas, according to the release. The department faces perennial challenges like the lack of high-speed internet in rural areas and thee burden of training both users and VA employees on how best to leverage the tech.

“The Foundation will work with VA to accelerate the growth of teleoncology,” Bristol Myers Squibb Foundation President John L. Damonti said in the release. “By developing, implementing and standardizing workflow processes, this project will expedite the expansion of a model for delivering specialized oncology care in a virtual setting — and help cancer care teams provide the utmost patient experience in a virtual care environment.”

Other health-related agencies have been working to amp-up telehealth services in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. The Indian Health Services recently expanded telehealth services in rural reservations that have been ravaged by the virus and suffer from a lack of health care access.

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Bristol Myers Squibb Foundation, Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), health care, rural, telehealth
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