The Department of Veterans Affairs, which already has the nation’s largest telemedicine program, is looking to expand those technological capabilities in Fiscal Year 2020.
The Trump administration’s FY 2020 budget request includes $1.1 billion for telehealth services, an increase of $105 million, or 10.5 percent, over the current estimate for expenditures in FY2019, according to the VA.
The VA’s goal is to increase the percentage of veterans receiving some care through telehealth from 13 percent to 20 percent, using telehealth applications such as VA Video Connect, a technology initiative that enables providers to connect with veterans via their mobile devices, smartphones, tablets or computers.
Last year, the agency conducted more than 1 million video telehealth visits, a 19 percent increase over the prior year.
According to VA Secretary Robert Wilkie, telemedicine is critical to ensuring that veterans—particularly those living in rural areas—can access high-quality healthcare, and VA Video Connect will be integrated into clinicians’ routine operations.
“In FY 2018, more than 782,000 veterans—or 13 percent of veterans obtaining care at VA—had one or more telehealth episodes of care,” said Wilkie on Wednesday during testimony before a House appropriations subcommittee. “Of these 782,000 veterans using telehealth, 45 percent live in rural areas.
“In addition to reaching where we don’t have a strong physical presence, it is the wave of the future for mental health because this affords our veterans the opportunity to be in a comfortable setting without the pressures of a large institution,” Wilkie told lawmakers.
The VA plans to expand telehealth and telemental health over the next five years in both urban and rural settings, focusing on care in or near veterans’ homes.
“We will continue to invest heavily in telehealth—we’re really the only medical system in the country doing that,” Wilkie claimed.
He credited the MISSION Act, enacted in 2018, for strengthening the VA’s ability to provide even more telemedicine services “because it statutorily authorizes VA providers to practice telehealth at any location in any state, regardless of where the provider is licensed.”
Richard Stone, MD, executive in charge of the Veterans Health Administration, testified that the VA has partnered with Philips, Walmart and T-Mobile to expand efforts to extend care to underserved veterans.
“What’s very exciting is our ability to penetrate areas where the basic infrastructure does not support the transmission of electrons at the rate that we can do a video visit,” Stone said. “We are partnering with Philips Corporation who has agreed to donate more than 100 pre-manufactured rooms that will go into Veterans Service Organizations as well as into Walmarts.”