How the VA has been Leading the Pack with Telehealth
Historically, our medical systems have operated on a reactive basis. Meaning, as both patients and providers we react to a medical ailment or sickness by going to the doctor for treatment. Even as technology and its impact on the medical community has improved dramatically in recent years, our healthcare system still has only tended to the sick, leading some to believe the more appropriate name for it would be “sick care” as opposed to “health care.” With the growing use and innovations in digital health technologies (wearables, Bluetooth peripherals and more) and advanced science available nowadays, how do we transform our habits of reacting to a medical illness and become proactive focusing on prevention?
One of the key technological developments that can initiate this change is telehealth. It allows you to see a provider without having to be physically present so you can get the care you need without waiting for the appointment date, taking time off work and commuting to the office. It also reduces the potential to have to repeat these steps for future consultations when specialists are required. Telehealth is especially important now since the COVID-19 pandemic swept the nation and folks still need to be seen without risking unnecessary exposure. This kind of streamlined method of care encourages a proactive approach and has made a huge impact on the way our medical community provides healthcare today.
The Veterans Health Administration (VHA), America’s largest integrated healthcare system and a component of the Office of Veterans Affairs (VA), has been a pioneer and industry leader in their adoption of telehealth programs and services. Specifically, the Office of Connected Care (OCC) brings digital technology to veterans and healthcare professionals, extending access to care beyond the traditional office visit. Through virtual technology, the VA is able to deliver care to patients wherever they are and whenever they need it.
As early as 2003, the OCC started a home telehealth program that prescribed medical equipment like blood pressure cuffs that connected via dial-up phone lines to transmit data to the VA. In the following years, the OCC expanded into video capabilities and offered a wider scope of care and use cases to include specialty services, primary care and mental health. Today, the OCC’s offerings have grown into multiple programs like Anywhere to Anywhere and Connected Care and have been integrated into all of the VA’s clinical operations.
For their telehealth program success, the OCC needed tools to gather patient data without seeing each patient in person. One way the OCC did this was through wearables, health apps, smartwatches and other medical devices. These data sources are useful to the OCC because they physically stay with the patient and can electronically share real-time metrics and data with providers.
The OCC also uses tools like carts, tablets, iPads and monitors to connect patients with their providers virtually. The list of metrics garnered from these tools are extensive and include average heart rate, blood glucose, temperature, weight, cholesterol, insulin levels and sleep duration to name a few.
Once the OCC has their metrics and data on their patient, it’s time to set up a telehealth appointment to go over diagnoses, treatment and future care. The VA uses an application called Virtual Care Manager (VCM) to handle this. Patients can create, view and join VA Video Connect visits via VCM and clinicians can create, view and join video visits and create group visits. In the future, VCM is going to be able to provide more clinical relevancy data like patient vitals, analytics, secure message patients, and agendas.
While the VA implemented home telehealth back in 2003, the necessity for telehealth services exploded after the COVID-19 pandemic swept the nation. Social distancing requirements and shuttered provider locations made it even more critical that the VA have the ability to continue to provide care to their veteran patients from their homes. In today’s COVID climate, the VA successfully clocks over 1.7 million minutes a day in video calls with veterans, over 5,000 concurrent peak video calls (up from 400) and over 29,000 video appointments are scheduled on a daily basis.
All of this extra effort is not a one-man show. The VA has partnered with many organizations to help them piece together the backend necessities for data sources, gather patient data in a compliant way, build databases to securely store the patient data, and manufacture the equipment and applications needed to connect providers with their patients. Today, the VA has a plethora of telehealth apps available for both clinicians and veterans to use:
- VA Video Connect (video capabilities between patient and provider via mobile devices)
- VA Online Scheduling (online patient portal where veterans can see their upcoming appointments)
- Annie (a text messaging service that patients can subscribe to in order to get updates on protocols)
- REVAMP (a sleep apnea application that pairs with a PAP machine and tracks a patient’s sleep)
- MyVA Images (allows VA care teams to capture, store and view digital images and clinical data to provide teledermatology services)
Partners not only develop these applications with the VA but also provide training for VA staff so that these applications can be used with maximized efficiency. With telehealth being so critical to providing patient care in the nation’s current state, it’s important veterans have access to useful tools in order to experience as little disruption as possible in their continuum of care.
If you’re a provider at the VA and want more information on training to use telehealth equipment and services, please contact us today.
If you’re a veteran currently using VA telehealth and want more information on how to plug yourself into the available services, please reach out to us to get more information.
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