Bill Farmer is an early adopter when it comes to health care technology. The Vietnam Veteran has been using VA Video Connect for five years and loves it.
“VA Video Connect has eliminated a lot of unnecessary travel,” said Farmer, who lives more than 50 miles from the Milwaukee VA Medical Center. Driving to appointments takes three hours out of his day, and even longer during Wisconsin winters.
“Most of my appointments are only 10 to 15 minutes and a quick chat with the doctor about changes in medicine,” explained the Air Force Veteran. “The virtual system is a huge time saver.”
Using VA Video Connect, Farmer easily communicates with his eight doctors from the comfort of his home. He calls his computer desk setup his “control room.” The Veteran easily navigates to the video platform for scheduled virtual visits, and with a few clicks is seeing and talking to his doctors online.
Started in 2017
VA began piloting Video Connect in 2017. The telehealth service enables veterans to interact with their physicians using a secure video connection to address nearly any issue that does not require an in-person visit.
The app can be used by any Veteran who has video-capable technology — such as a smartphone, tablet or computer — a reliable internet connection and access to a VA provider who uses the service.
Early on, VA Video Connect demonstrated its powerful capabilities. Its pilot introduction coincided with the devastation left behind by hurricanes Harvey and Irma. Video Connect enabled VA physicians to remotely get Veterans the care they needed, underscoring its potential to reach patients unable to physically travel because of their disability or distance from their doctor.
More recently, during the first round of COVID, VA Video Connect offered an option for Veterans who were nervous about exposure to the virus in health care settings. This reflects similar trends on telehealth and telemedicine in private sector and non-government health care institutions.
Locally, 93 percent of Zablocki VA medical providers offer VA Video Connect. Last year more than 47,000 online visits occurred between Veterans and Zablocki medical staff. More recently, in the last three months, more than 15,000 virtual visits occurred. The recent demand for video visits is not a surprise as health care systems have shifted their focus to telehealth during the pandemic. It’s especially appealing to Veterans.
‘Makes good sense’
“VA Video Connect makes good sense for many of our Veterans,” said Dr. Mary Ellis, a Milwaukee VA pulmonologist who early on championed the emerging technology. “In addition to eliminating driving and parking time, it offers an easier option for Veterans with mobility issues.
“The technology also appeals to our snowbirds – people who travel south for the winter months but still want to stay connected with their physicians.”
Ellis said the technology allows caregivers and families to connect with VA physicians from different geographic locations. For instance, elderly patients may connect with their VA doctor from their home, and their adult children may connect from a different location.
In addition to primary care and specialty visits, VA Video Connect is also valuable to Veterans who have mental health issues. The app puts patients in virtual touch with psychologists and counselors, bypassing the sometimes longer wait times for appointments.
Veterans like Farmer can also use technology at home to securely transmit their vital statistics to their physicians. He regular takes his blood pressure with a special cuff that sends the data directly to VA. Other transmittable data includes heart rate, weight, and oxygen and blood sugar levels. Ellis expects someday in the future Farmer will have a Bluetooth stethoscope at home, allowing the doctor to access real-time readings and listen from a distance.
While convenient for seniors, VA Video Connect also appeals to younger Veterans, including post-9/11 Veterans, who tend to be more comfortable with smartphones, tablets and laptops. Many cite the convenience and time-saving aspects of the technology.
How it works
Patients need to request VA Video Connect when making their medical appointments. If the appointment is eligible, a link is sent to patient’s email, and the link brings the patient into the virtual medical room with the caregiver. Additional family members, as well as other health care providers, may be added from separate locations if requested. The service is provided at no cost, and VA can provide tablets or other technology for Veterans through the Digital Divide program.
Patients are encouraged to enroll in the VA Video Connect program before their next appointment. Once they are registered, any eligible visit can be scheduled via VA Video Connect. Visits can be scheduled, or on demand. Veterans may also upgrade to a premium MyHealtheVet account for free, which has secure access via a “connect” button on the virtual screens.
As for Farmer, VA Video Connect remains his preferred method of appointments, especially during the winter months. On a recent Wednesday afternoon, the Veteran avoided slippery roads and sub-zero wind chills as he logged into an appointment with Ellis from his “control room” at home.
For more information about VA Video Connect, ask your primary care provider or medical service assistant during scheduling or download the VA Video Connect brochure.
Need help? VA can help you get set up or troubleshoot technical problems. Call the Office of Connected Care Help Desk at 866-651-3180 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Test your device. Visit the VA Video Connect test site to test your microphone and speakers. To test on your mobile device, text ‘V’ to 83293 or 323-621-3589. Standard text messaging rates may apply. You can also ask your VA care team for a practice session.