The Department of Veterans Affairs, which already has the country’s largest telemedicine program, delivered more than 2.6 million episodes of telehealth care in Fiscal Year 2019.
The milestone—reached between October 2018 and September 2019—represents a 17 percent increase in overall telehealth visits over the previous fiscal year, according to new data released by the VA.
Over the past fiscal year, more than 900,000 veterans availed themselves of the agency’s telemedicine services in a clinic or at home, enabling real-time interaction with VA care teams.
FY 2019 was the first full fiscal year of the VA’s Anywhere to Anywhere initiative, which enables care teams to treat veterans regardless of their location—including across state lines or outside a VA facility. The new program is particularly beneficial for veterans living in rural areas who would otherwise need to travel a considerable distance or across state lines to receive care.
“VA is committed to offering veterans the healthcare they deserve, whenever and wherever they need it,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie in a written statement. “We want every veteran to have a choice to schedule an in-person, telephone or video visit with their providers, depending on their preferences for healthcare delivery.”
In FY2019, health visits enabled by VA Video Connect—the technology program that enables providers to connect with veteran’s personal mobile device, smartphone, tablet or computer—increased by 235 percent. VA Video Connect is meant to provide fast, easy, encrypted, real-time access to care wherever veterans might be located.
“More than 99,000 veterans used the app at home, eliminating a trip to the nearest VA facility,” according to the agency. “More than 200,000, or approximately two-thirds of the 294,000 VA Video Connect appointments in FY 2019, were for tele-mental health visits.”
The VA has been expanding its telemedicine capabilities to meet the growing needs of its patient population, especially in the area of primary care and mental health services as well as rural and underserved parts of the United States.
“By the end of FY 2020, all primary care and mental health providers will be able to deliver care to patients, both in-person and via a mobile or web-based device,” according to the agency.
Last month, the VA launched an Accessing Telehealth through Local Areas Stations (ATLAS) pilot in Eureka, Mont., as part of its Anywhere to Anywhere telehealth initiative.
ATLAS is intended to provide timely care for veterans who live long distances from VA medical centers or have poor internet connectivity at home. The agency is planning to open other pilot sites in select American Legion posts, Veterans of Foreign Wars posts and Walmart stores.
“The organizations that collaborate with ATLAS provide veterans with comfortable, private spaces to have video appointments with VA providers,” according to the agency. “At ATLAS sites, veterans meet with VA providers through VA Video Connect, VA’s secure videoconferencing software. There is no copay for VA Video Connect appointments, whether at an ATLAS site or otherwise. VA providers may prescribe most medications for veterans during appointments at ATLAS sites.”