VA turns to Congress to expand telemedicine

The Department of Veterans Affairs touts the potential for broadband-enabled health delivery to improve access and quality of care in rural and remote areas, but it needs some help.

By Kenneth Corbin
May 10, 2017


 

Looking to expand delivery of telehealth care

The VA has three broad categories of telehealth services, comprised of clinical telehealth, home telehealth, and "store and forward" services, where a device captures an image and relays it along to be examined by a specialist at a later time.

The VA offers telehealth services in more than 50 clinical specialties. The VA reports that more than 307,000 veterans received care through a clinical telehealth encounter last year, and, at present, more than 87,000 are using home telehealth services.

Nonetheless, telehealth remains a relatively small piece of the VA's overall healthcare operation. Last year, more than 5.8 million veterans received VA care, but of those, just 12 percent engaged in some kind of telehealth activity.

The agency is looking to increase that figure in the coming years, building out access to services and beefing up capacity by hiring specialists in metropolitan areas who could remotely administer care to veterans in rural and far-flung locales.

But the agency insists that Congress must put it on clear legal footing for those expansion plans to materialize.

"As a first step and very simply, we need clear legislative authority from Congress authorizing our VA providers to care for a veteran, irrespective of the location of the provider or the veteran," Galpin said.

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