The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) recently announced that its national telehealth programs served more than 690,000 veterans, or 12 percent of the total VA healthcare population, in fiscal year 2014. Patients using these telehealth programs were able to access more than 44 clinical specialties, including rehabilitation, primary care, mental health, and dermatology. Telehealth visits accounted for more than 2 million of the VA’s health interactions with patients in FY2014.
The VA currently offers three broad categories of telehealth services:
- Clinical Video Telehealth, which employs videoconferencing technologies to connect veterans to their clinical caregivers;
- Home Telehealth, which allows health care providers to monitor patient health through devices placed inside veterans homes, and;
- Store-and-Forward Telehealth, which allows the storing and forwarding of images, video, and sound files from veterans to specialists.
As others have observed, the VA is quietly revolutionizing telemedicine. The VA is perhaps uniquely equipped to drive advances in telemedicine because it is unencumbered by the state laws that restrict treatment by out-of-state doctors. The VA’s healthcare providers are not limited by these state licensing restrictions and can treat veterans throughout the system regardless of where they live. The VA also has a significant population of rural patients with few accessible options for live care. More than half of the patients using the VA’s telehealth services in FY2014 were veterans living in rural areas with limited access to VA health facilities. Finally, the VA, unlike other organizations, can standardize the delivery of telemedicine because its facilities can operate using the same platform with consistent standards and security requirements. Those interested in the development of telemedicine should keep an eye on the VA’s telehealth programs and pilots.