The Veterans Affairs Department has announced a substantial expansion to its telehealth program, making health care services far more accessible to veterans via VA Video Connect.
VA and President Donald Trump on Aug. 3 unveiled a nationwide rollout of VA Video Connect. The program allows veterans to receive health care services using telecommunication devices, like smartphones, home computers and tablets.
According to VA Secretary David Shulkin, this move will expand access for veterans in unprecedented ways. The department already has the largest telemedicine program in the country, with 700,000 veterans receiving medical care through VA’s telehealth services. VA Video Connect provides access to doctors in more than 50 different medical specialties, like teledermatology, teleintensive care and teledentistry.
Currently, VA uses VA Video Connect with more than 300 VA providers at 67 of its hospitals or clinics across the country. With the help of the Office of American Innovation and the Justice Department, VA is extending the program to all VA hospitals in the country.
According to Shulkin, VA will issue regulation that allows its providers to provide telehealth services from anywhere in the country to veterans anywhere; being called “anywhere to anywhere” VA health care. VA providers can use mobile devices to connect with veterans on their mobile devices or their computers.
“That's a big deal,” Shulkin said.
The new initiative means providers in populated cities will be able to help veterans in rural areas that lack health care professionals, especially in the realm of mental health and suicide prevention.
Shulkin said he himself uses VA Video Connect to provide medical services to his clinic in Oregon from Washington, D.C. During the Aug. 3 announcement, he demonstrated how the program works by video chatting with the clinicians in Oregon to take a look at a veteran’s skin condition.
Shulkin also presented the “doctor’s bag of the future,” the same bag that travels with the president on Air Force One.
“We now are able to bring this doctor’s bag into the home of our veterans,” he said. “Our nurse practitioners, our technicians are able to use this type of technology now.”
The bag included a tablet so clinicians can connect veterans with a specialist from anywhere in the country, if needed. Additionally, VA introduced the nationwide rollout of the Veterans Appointment Request application, which allows veterans to schedule, change or cancel appointments directly with VA providers using their mobile devices or smartphones.
Today, this service is available in all 18 VA regions across the country, and Shulkin said VA already booked more than 4,000 appointments from veterans directly from their smartphones. Veterans can get the app on mobile.va.gov/appstore.
Efforts to modernize VA began under the Obama administration, as the U.S. Digital Service created Vets.Gov so veterans could go online to apply for health care, appeal benefit decisions and check claim statuses. This recent announcement expands on these efforts, showing how VA is working with the new administration to improve access and bring the best technology to veteran health care.
In fact, in June, VA announced it was adopting the same Electronic Health Record system as the Defense Department, known as GENESIS. Shulkin said this decision, along with VA accountability bill passed under Trump, has helped VA reach this point, but it’s just the beginning of what it hopes to be able to do for veterans.
Images courtesy Veterans Health Flickr; Pixabay icons.