VA, White House Highlight Telehealth for Vets

The Veterans Administration (VA) has long been a leader in the use of telehealth to treat its patients. Indeed, in 2015, the agency’s providers completed more than 2.1 million telehealth visits, 45 percent of which were with rural patients. Now, that trend is continuing with the unveiling last Thursday of a new initiative designed to make it easier for veterans to access care across state lines. As Fierce Healthcare and others first reported, the VA’s “Anywhere to Anywhere VA Health Care,” developed in part with the White House Office of American Innovation, would allow VA providers licensed in one state to treat patients located in other states via telemedicine.

VA Secretary David Shulkin, who spoke at the rollout event along with President Donald Trump, noted that the initiative would facilitate patients’ access to care regardless of their physical location. “We’re removing geography as a barrier so that we can speed up access to veterans and really honor our commitment to them,” he said. Also included in Anywhere to Anywhere are two apps: VA Video Connect and the Veteran Appointment Request (VAR) app. VA Video Connect, per the VA, would allow patients to securely connect with members of their health care team for mobile video visits. It will be in use at all VA health facilities by October of this year. The VAR app, which is not yet available everywhere, will allow veterans to self-schedule appointments.

Included in the new program are some of the provisions of the Veterans E-Health & Telemedicine Support (VETS) Act, which, as we noted earlier this year, would remove some of the restrictions that are in place now regarding the practice of telehealth across state lines. Introduced in the Senate by Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) and Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI), it would also expand eligible sites of care to include patients’ homes and community health centers, meaning that less travel would be required to receive treatment. The two senators praised the new VA initiative in a joint statement. “The VA’s decision to allow veterans to access care from the comfort of, or closer to, their own homes is necessary to improving quality and timely care for the more than 200,000 veterans in Iowa, particularly those who are disabled or reside in rural communities,” Sen. Ernst, herself a veteran, commented. For her part, Sen. Hirono noted that the two would continue to advocate for their bill. “I will continue to push for the passage of the VETS Act to ensure that Secretary Shulkin’s announcement can be strengthened with full legislative authority to help veterans across the country,” she explained.

Click here to read the Fierce Healthcare article on the new VA telehealth initiative.

Click here to read the joint statement from Sen. Joni Ernst and Sen. Mazie Hirono.

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