VA looks to expand vet healthcare through telehealth rule change

Jonathan Kaupanger
January 17, 2018 - 1:32 pm
Telehealth technology at the VA

© Sipa USA


A rule change proposed by the Department of Veterans Affairs could possibly change the future of medical care. It will absolutely make access to care easier, especially for veterans living in rural areas, by changing state restrictions on telehealth.

The change would let VA distribute care better by hiring providers in urban areas – where more are located – but let them treat patients in rural areas. This could also help veterans who normally wouldn’t seek treatment.  Last year, the VA had 2.17 million telehealth appointments with over 700,000 veterans.  This is only about 12 percent of the VA’s appointments, but 45 percent of these were with patients in rural areas of the country.

As it stands now, in many states a medical provider – including VA employees – must be licensed in the state where they practice. Because of this, the VA has had a hard time getting providers to work through telemedicine. Expansion of this service would also be a recruitment incentive, according to the VA.

For an example of benefits from this change, just look at the VAMC in Charleston, SC. The hospital provides mental health services to eight states. There are 30 full-time providers on staff, but the hospital has vacancies for psychiatrists.  Applicants for these positions have stated that they are interested in the job, only if they can work via telehealth.  This rule change would let the hospital fill all vacancies.

Telehealth has other benefits, according to the VA. Last year, there was a 31 percent decrease in VA hospital admissions for vets who were enrolled in the home telehealth monitoring program.  Veterans who received mental health services through telehealth had almost a 40 percent reduction in the number days spent in the hospital for acute psychiatric care.

VA is already the largest telehealth program in the country and can practice over 50 clinical specialties using the technology. In August, VA took a step forward to expand these services by introducing a new application called VA Video Connect.  This is a secure, web-enabled video service that makes it easier for veterans to connect with their VA health providers.  It’s done through either a mobile phone or personal computer.  VA Video Connect is being used by more than 300 providers at 67 hospitals and clinics.  The system will be sent VA wide over the next year.

You can read the full VA telehealth proposal in the Federal Register.  Comments can be made about the proposed rule change until November 1.