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Veterans Health Administration


Connecting Veterans with Telehealth

A nurse and Veteran talk with a physician through a video conference

Telehealth — making care accessible and patient-centered.

by Hans Petersen, VA Staff Writer
Monday, June 23, 2014

In fiscal year 2013, more than 600,000 Veteran patients received some element of their health care via telehealth.

That’s 11 percent of the Veterans in the VA health care system who participated in 1.7 million telehealth episodes of care.

For those thousands of Veterans, the future is now with telehealth, a radically different way for patients to receive and clinicians to provide care.

According to Dr. Adam Darkins, “telehealth in VA is the forerunner of a wider vision, one in which the relationship between patients and the health care system will dramatically change with the full realization of the ‘connected patient’. The high levels of patient satisfaction with telehealth and positive clinical outcome, attest to this direction being the right one.”

Darkins is VA’s chief consultant for telehealth services.

Telehealth is aimed at making care convenient, accessible and patient-centered. Telehealth helps Veterans live independently in their own homes and local communities.

 Telehealth…translates into many Veterans receiving care in their own home and local community. 

Covers Over 44 Clinical Specialties

A key component of VA Telehealth is Clinical Video Telehealth, real-time video consultation that covers over 44 clinical specialties including: TeleIntensive Care, TeleMental Health, TeleCardiology, TeleNeurology, TeleSurgery, Women’s Telehealth, TelePrimary Care, TeleSCI Care, TeleAmputation Care, TeleAudiology, TeleSpeech, Remote Nursing Home Consultation, TelePathology and more.

Home Telehealth, which provided care for 144,520 Veterans in fiscal year 2013, helps patients with chronic conditions in their homes, providing non-institutional care, chronic care management, acute care management, health promotion and disease prevention.

Forty-five percent of these patients live in rural areas and may otherwise have had limited access to VA health care. The number of Veterans receiving care via VA Telehealth services is growing approximately 22 percent annually.

An senior Veteran speaks to a nurse and doctor on a video screen

The number of Veterans receiving care via telehealth growing about 22% a year.

More Than a Million Mental Health Encounters

TeleMental Health — VA has delivered more than 1.1 million patient encounters from 150 VA facilities to 729 community based outpatient clinics, a 24-fold increase in consultations since fiscal year 2003.

In fiscal year 2013, VA delivered more than 278,000 TeleMental Health patient encounters to over 91,000 patients.

The scope of VA’s TeleMental Health services includes all mental health conditions with a focus on posttraumatic stress disorder, depression, compensation and pension exams, bipolar disorder, behavioral pain and evidence-based psychotherapy.

The ability to receive and store clinical images via telehealth is called Store-and-Forward Telehealth (SFT). This affected 311,369 Veterans in fiscal year 2013. It enables the acquisition of clinical images at sites close to the patient, and for the interpretation and reporting of these to occur remotely and asynchronously.

Use of TeleDermatology up by 279 percent

Currently the major areas of SFT care in VA are TeleRetinal Imaging, to screen for diabetic eye disease and prevent avoidable blindness, and TeleDermatology, which has increased by 279 percent over the past three years to more than 45,000 patients receiving care in fiscal year 2013.

New programs under development include TelePathology, TeleWound care, TeleSpirometry and TeleCardiology.

Dr. Darkins adds, “telehealth is often described as helping provide the right care in the right place at the right time which translates into many Veterans receiving care in their own home and local community. In doing so, telehealth often avoids the need to travel, but can also alert VA that a patient needs to be rapidly seen in the clinic or hospital.”

Learn more about VA Telehealth services and watch videos that do a great job of explaining telehealth programs and how they can provide better access to health care for Veterans.