The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) will be expanding its telehealth program next year, after posting impressive numbers on use and patient satisfaction.
The fact that its providers can treat patients across state lines without having to be licensed to practice in each state where the patients reside makes VA the perfect testbed for telehealth. Unsurprisingly, the Department has shown how scalable telehealth could become for patients and providers working in the private sector.
In October 2014, VA announced that more than 690,000 veterans had participated in more than two million virtual appointments for fiscal year 2014. The service is enjoying a growth rate of about 22% per year and now includes telehealth in 45 specialty clinical areas.
Currently, veterans can choose between three types of telehealth, or virtual appointments: clinical video telehealth, a two-way live visits with video and audio between a physician and a patient; store-and-forward, where an image is taken during an in-person visit and later examined remotely by a specialist such as a radiologist, ophthalmologist or dermatologist; and home monitoring telehealth, where patients track blood sugar or other vitals and transmit results to care teams who collect and analyze the data.
In October 2014, VA announced that more than 690,000 veterans had participated in more than two million virtual appointments for fiscal year 2014.In FY 2014, VA reported that 379,000 veterans participated in store-and-forward telehealth, 248,000 received some sort of clinical video care, 156,000 – in-home telehealth services, and 108,000 veterans received mental health care via telehealth, with 336,000 total visits. Additionally, 44% of veterans living in rural areas have received some form of telehealth services.
Results of telehealth programs include a 34% reduction in readmissions for home telehealth participants, and a 42% reduction in bed days for telehealth participants in FY 2014.
When it comes to satisfaction rate, clinical video telehealth received a 94% score, while store-and-forward tele-dermatology received a 92% patient satisfaction rate and tele-retinology received a 94% patient satisfaction rate. A survey of 200,000 home telehealth participants showed an 85% patient satisfaction rate.
FY 2014 results of telehealth programs include a 34% reduction in readmissions for home telehealth participants, and a 42% reduction in bed days.“What we hear from veterans is that a clinical video telehealth visit is perceived as uninterrupted time with their provider,” Maureen McCarthy, acting chief consultant for the VA telehealth program, said. “Often time, with in-person visits, providers must spend time at the computer looking at patient charts and records. With telehealth, veterans feel like they have uninterrupted time.”
VA doesn’t have numbers on cost savings but that is something the agency is exploring, McCarthy said.
Looking into next year, the agency expects to further expand these services, having received a $23 million funding increase for telehealth programs for FY 2015, for a total telehealth investment of $567 million. A $16.3 billion VA reform bill signed in August 2014 will build additional clinics, many of which will offer telehealth. In addition, the continuous spending bill approved by Congress in December 2014 provides VA with nearly $4 billion for health IT, including improving interoperability and electronic medical records systems.
Targeted expansion in 2015 includes tele-audiology (hearing care), primary care, women’s health, intensive care unit telehealth and clinical video telehealth into homes. VA also is exploring tele-wound care and expanding the home telehealth platform.