As telemedicine continues to make strides as a tool for the management of chronic neurodegenerative diseases, genetic counseling and smoking cessation, industry leaders have often looked to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) as a trailblazer in the delivery of virtual care. Last year, more than 700,000 veterans received care via telemedicine services, nearly half of which were for those living in rural areas. Although telehealth may not be capable of entirely replacing in-person consultations, it does have the potential to considerably mitigate the need for many of those visits; VA Telehealth has support for more than 50 clinical specialties, from tele-dermatology to tele-dentistry.
Last month, an initiative was announced by President Trump and VA Secretary Dr. David Shulkin that would further expand telehealth technology and mobile applications to connect more veterans with providers. Aptly named Anywhere to Anywhere VA Health Care, the new regulations will authorize VA providers to see and treat veteran patients regardless of where either party may be located. This landmark initiative would effectively strip providers of the longstanding regulatory burden requiring them to be physically located in the same state as the patients they see. Dr. Shulkin explained that breaking down this barrier would considerably assist efforts in bringing vital tele-psychiatric services to veterans suffering from a wide array of mental health disorders, including depression, PTSD, and opioid addiction.
“What we’re really doing is, we’re removing regulations that have prevented us from doing this. We’re removing geography as a barrier.” Dr. David Shulkin, VA Secretary
Also introduced during the announcement were two new applications:
• VA Video Connect: connects veterans with their providers from anywhere in the United States, encrypted to ensure that the consultations remain confidential. This app works on any mobile device and will be rolled out to all VA providers and patients by October 2017.
• Veteran Appointment Request (VAR): allows veterans to request and self-schedule appointments at their local VA facilities
As the VA continues to eliminate barriers to telehealth implementation and this initiative is rolled out in the coming months, the rest of the industry will be closely monitoring their progress.