The Veterans Administration (VA) has taken its lumps in recent years for shortcomings in delivering health services to veterans. The agency is charged with charged with providing services for more than 9 million patients across the country. About one third live in rural areas, more than half of them are 65 years old or older, and more than half of them make less than $35,000 per year.
As a result, many veterans face significant challenges in getting to VA healthcare facilities. Even patients in urban areas may encounter lengthy delays in receiving care.
The VA has taken dramatic steps to address this problem. The agency has been an early adopter of telehealth technology. From 2009 to 2018, it has provided 2.7 million telehealth encounters to 2.5 million patients using “store and forward” systems. These are typically used to capture medical images such as retina scans that are sent electronically to a specialist for evaluation.
The VA also uses video to allow healthcare professionals to interact with patients at a remote location. In 2018 alone, the agency provided more than 1 million telehealth episodes using video; nearly half of these were for mental health services.
The agency is also using smartphone apps to help deliver healthcare services to veterans. And the VA has partnered with Walmart to provide space for telehealth services in Walmart stores. This program is designed to reach under-served veterans, noting that 90% of the U.S. population lives within 10 miles of a Walmart store, while only 10% of veterans live within 10 miles of a VA facility.
The VA is helping to normalize telehealth services as part of our national healthcare system. This approach should help deliver services to more patients sooner and at lower cost, resulting in earlier diagnosis and treatment, better outcomes, and lives saved.