How Telehealth Is Improving Healthcare for Veterans

How Telehealth Is Improving Healthcare for Veterans

The VA Recently Launched a New Telehealth Tablet Program to Increase Veterans’ Access to Care

The Department of Veterans Affairs is responsible for providing healthcare to the nation’s 18.2 million veterans, serving more than 9 million veterans every year. Suicide, mental health, PTSD, and numerous chronic conditions are common among United States veterans. 

However, many veterans often face challenges when seeking care. A recent study shows veterans often have to wait longer to receive care compared to non-VA facilities. At roughly 70% of VA hospitals, the median time between arrival in the emergency room and admission is longer than at other hospitals, in some cases by hours.

Additionally, many veterans live in rural areas where the nearest VA healthcare facility may be hours away. To expand healthcare for veterans, the VA recently launched a new telehealth program, providing telehealth-enabled tablets to thousands of veterans across the country.

The VA’s Telehealth Tablet Program

The 2016-17 program gave mHealth-enabled tablets to some 6,750 veterans in rural areas across the country. Each tablet came with remote patient monitoring and virtual visit capabilities, and some veterans received additional mHealth devices such as a blood pressure monitor or weight scale. 

According to an analysis of the program by researchers at the VA Center for Innovation to Implementation, around 75% of participants dealt with a mental health issue, and most had multiple chronic conditions. The results of the analysis show the program was largely a success by increasing the number of consultations among veterans.

  • Over 80% of the veterans used the tablets
  • About 30% used the tablets at least five times
  • Around 50% of all interactions were for mental health issues
  • 15% were focused on spinal cord injury care
  • 7% targeted home-based primary care or therapy/rehabilitation
  • 4% focused on primary care
  • 2% centered on palliative care and hospice services

The results show that the tablet program often aligned with each VA facility’s strategic healthcare plan and was well received by the veterans. Despite these positives, the analysis also shows the program could have been even more successful if local VA facilities were better equipped to handle these virtual interactions. 

Over a third of VA facility coordinators said their facility wasn’t adequately equipped to run the program. Common issues included staffing shortages, a lack of training and poor provider interest, a lack of interest from leadership, as well as competition for time and resources from other telehealth programs. Connectivity also played a role in the program. Connectivity was also a barrier for those living in remote regions with poor access to the internet. 

What We Can Learn from the Results

At InTouch Health, we know that issues such as adequate provider and staff training, along with reliable technology, and a high connection success rate are critical to the success of a virtual care program. While the analysis shows the program was a success in terms of connecting veterans to providers, more can be done to support the usability of these devices. This includes more interest from leadership and providers, increased connectivity, adequate staff training, and more resources for telehealth programs. 

Despite the few barriers, we’re able to see that most veterans responded positively to the program and were able to access care providers using these tablets. This shows telehealth can dramatically improve healthcare for veterans as long as local VA facilities have the appropriate resources in place.

Veterans often deal with both mental and physical health issues, and unfortunately, long wait times and limited VA resources can often impede veterans’ access to care. Telehealth-enabled tablets and virtual care programs may be the solution the VA has been looking for when it comes to expanding access to care.

Telemedicine can break down the barriers to medical services without lowering the quality of care these veterans receive. For more information on the benefits of telehealth, and to learn how InTouch Health can aid in enhancing physician adoption, and provide secure, reliable virtual care technology, visit our website today.