AcuteCare Telemedicine Blog


Telehealth Takes Important Care To Veterans Through The VA

Even before the recent revelations of the administrative follies at the Veterans Administration (VA), it was common for each of us to know of a veteran seeking medical attention from a VA Hospital. Usually the discussion centered on the time it took the patient to travel to the nearest VA Medical Center, particularly for those patients living in more rural communities many miles from the urban centers where most VA facilities are located. It was even more difficult for those veterans who needed specialized care from a consolidated, regional VA Center located many more miles from their home, often one or more states away.

Despite today’s plethora of negative information coming from the embattled Veterans Administration, it appears that someone at the organization was doing something right in order to bring better and more accessible healthcare to our nation’s military veterans via telecommunication technology. The VA System seemed the perfect proving ground for implementing telemedicine on a larger scale. With patients scattered far and wide, doctors and caregivers were able to connect virtually with VA patients no matter how far they were from the hospital.

A recent review of the telehealth services initiatives at the VA indicates that more than 600,000 veteran patients received some element of their health care via telehealth in 2013. The patients represented 11 percent of the veterans in the VA health care system who participated in 1.7 million telehealth episodes of care. According to Dr. Adam Darkins, “telehealth in VA is the forerunner of a wider vision, one in which the relationship between patients and the healthcare system will dramatically change with the full realization of the ‘connected patient’. The high levels of patient satisfaction with telehealth and positive clinical outcome, attest to this direction being the right one.”

Forty-five percent of the patients live in rural areas, limiting their access to VA healthcare. The number of veterans receiving care via VA telehealth services is growing approximately 22 percent a year. Telemental Health is one of the leading specialties provided through telecommunication. The VA has delivered 1.1 million patient encounters through 729 community based outpatient clinics since 2003 and in 2013 the VA delivered 278,000 Telemental Health encounters to 91,000 patients.

The use of TeleDermatology is up by 279 percent from its inception, treating more than 45,000 veterans. New programs under development include TelePathology, TeleWound care, TeleSpirometry and TeleCardiology. Dr. Darkins says, “Telehealth is often described as helping provide the right care in the right place at the right time, which translates into many veterans receiving care in their own home and local community. In doing so, telehealth often avoids the need to travel, but can also alert the VA that a patient needs to be rapidly seen in the clinic or hospital.

Based on this report, the agency’s telehealth initiatives are positively impacting veterans by providing quality and accessible care.



The VA Is Leading The Federal Charge On Advancing Telemedicine

Two California Congressmen have submitted a bill that would expand telehealth coverage to active-duty service members, their dependents, retirees and veterans.  The 21st Century Care for Military & Veterans Act (H.R. 3507) was submitted earlier this month by U.S. Reps. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.) and Scott Peters (D-Calif.). Co-sponsored by Reps. Gregg Harper (R-Miss.) and Peter Welch (D-Vt.) and endorsed by the American Telemedicine Association, the bill would establish and expand current reimbursement policies for telehealth coverage under the Veterans’ Administration (VA) and The Defense Department’s TRICARE.

The VA has seen a 40 percent reduction in bed days and 87 percent reduction of annual per-patient costs when compared to home-based care programs, according to VA studies. Adam Darkins, MD, the VA’s chief consultant for telehealth services, anticipated that some 825,000 veterans would be served through telehealth by the end of 2013.

This new bill will offer members of the Armed Forces and their families the highest quality healthcare in a timely manner no matter where they live or how far away they are from the doctor they need to see. Technology can create a responsive and more efficient healthcare system that provides for better care and lower costs.

Earlier this year, U.S. Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) joined U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) in sponsoring the Telemedicine for Medicare (TELE-MED) Act (H.R. 3077), which would enable healthcare providers to treat Medicare patients in other states with telemedicine tools and services but without needing a different license for each state.

The VA, which launched telehealth services in 2003, appears to lead the way for the rest of the federal healthcare bureaucracy by eliminating many, still well-entrenched, barriers to the rapid expansion of telemedicine technology.  Given the history of the VA’s percieved poor performances in delivering much needed traditional healthcare services to our veterans, their leadership in advancing the use of telemedicine is a trend that is more than just a little encouraging.



Honoring Our Veterans With Telemedical Technology

As we honor our American Veterans this month, it is fitting to examine how Telemedicine, the exchange of medical information via electronic communications, has vastly changed the way deployed soldiers receive access to health care and how the new communication system promises to offer better access to care for veterans in the future as well.

When Dr. Ronald Poropatich first joined the military 30 years ago, the digital cameras and web cams required for the use of telemedicine barely existed. Yet, during his career as the deputy director of the Telemedicine and Advanced Technology Research Center in the United States Army, Poropatich helped revolutionize health care for soldiers by bringing telemedicine technology to army bases and field hospitals around the world including in Somalia, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Today, soldiers in Iraq or Afghanistan can get second opinions on tricky medical situations from doctors located halfway around the world and can receive diagnoses from medical specialists, even when none are stationed at their base.  Telemedicine has advanced greatly, allowing soldiers to email photos of electrocardiograms (EKGs) or skin rashes back to physicians back in the U.S., and receive feedback within hours.

This technology has allowed the military to spot medical conditions that would have otherwise been missed or quickly garner second opinions on cases that have the potential to warrant costly evacuations. Telemedicine has also provided a way to treat soldiers for conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder, or depression, while preserving their privacy.

The survival rate, if you can get to a combat support hospital level 3 facility in Afghanistan, is a fantastic 90 percent, but that means a lot of guys and gals are surviving horrific wounds once thought to be fatal.  So providing a telemedicine lifeline to veterans once they are back home is imperative in order for veterans to communicate with health care providers outside of in-office visits.  Accessing their care through the use of a cellphone or webcam, recovering soldiers will be more likely to stick with rehabilitation programs and outpatient treatment, ultimately ensuring better mental and physical health outcomes in the long term.

Perhaps the best way to honor our veterans is to provide them the best of medical care through the use of Telemedical Technology.



The VA Using Telemedicine to Expand and Improve Care to Veterans

The Veterans Affairs Department (VA) is changing the way it delivers health care to more than 8 million veterans.  The bureaucracy that has been struggling recently to provide services to more than 500,000 new beneficiaries, and who have demonstrated persistent difficulties in getting new veterans signed up for benefits, appears to be ahead of most health care providers in using technology to improve patient care.  The VA is now deploying a host of applications to expand its reach and make it easier for veterans to get care, no matter where they live.

The new mobile apps are rapidly changing how veterans access the resources and information that is available to them by engaging caregivers outside of the traditional office visit. Veterans can receive care through a telehealth program which uses Scan-Echo, a technology used to gather multiple care givers together to recommend a particular treatment plan. These technologies are helping create a system of care without walls, a virtual system of care.  The VA is making a huge investment in telehealth technologies, spending $500 million in 2013 alone on telehealth services, which include telemental health, telehome health and clinical consultation by video. Robert Petzel, VA’s under secretary for health, says, “This is where medicine is going, the virtual care delivery system.”

The VA has nine different technologies currently in use or about to enter the pilot stage which can perform functions like renew medications, communicate with their provider, look at their medical record information, such as labs, progress notes and radiology reports. A patient can utilize their iPad or smart phone to reorder medications or obtain other medical information on the spot.

The app is focused on giving veterans the knowledge to make better decisions and improve their quality of life.  It features a set of questions about the patient’s health history that, when answered, produces a summarized, personalized assessment of their current health status, their risk of major diseases, and the impact of their various choices will have on their health. The assessment calculates the risk of developing major disease, such as heart disease, stroke and diabetes so that the veteran can choose to change his or her lifestyle and recalculate the risks to see the impact those changes would have.  The VA developed the health living assessment program in response to both veterans’ and providers’ desire to have more tools.  Currently about 17 percent of all veterans are using telehealth services but it is estimated that 66 percent of all veterans could benefit from the technology services.



VETS Act Expands Veterans Access to Care

A bi-partisan bill, introduced by Representatives Charles Rangel (D-NY) and Glenn Thompson (R-PA) and cosponsored by 21 Members of Congress, would permit U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs health professionals to treat veterans nationwide with a single state license. The bill, known as the VETS Act, builds on the unanimous congressional enactment of the 2011 STEP Act (Servicemembers’ Telemedicine and E-Health Portability Act,) which provides a similar provision for healthcare providers in the U.S. Department of Defense. A similar licensing rule for patients and providers of Medicare, Medicaid and other major federal health programs was included in a comprehensive telemedicine bill submitted by Rep. Mike Thompson (D-CA) in December 2012.

These bills are a simple way, while preserving the states’ role to license, to address shortages of medical specialists, to improve patient access to the best qualified physicians, and to accommodate mobile Americans and multi-state health plans,” said Jonathan Linkous, Chief Executive Officer of the American Telemedicine Association.  Currently, most providers who practice interstate telemedicine must be licensed both where the patient and provider are physically located. In some states, medical boards are even imposing stricter licensing requirements for telehealth providers than they do for in-person care, such as requiring a prior face-to-face examination for each and every case.

The Veterans Administration is consolidating many medical specialties in regional facilities that are often located a considerable distance from veteran patients who need regular treatments for injuries suffered in the defense of the country.  In some cases these patients need to travel into another state to receive specialized care, resulting in significant inconvenience and expense to VA beneficiaries.  The ability to treat these patients across state lines by use of telemedicine technology promises considerable benefits to patients and the VA care providers.

For the Veterans Administration who is currently experiencing a backlog of more than 500,000 requests for benefits, removing or lowering regulatory barriers will surely enhance the accessibility of care for patients living in areas remote from VA treatment centers while generating operational efficiencies for the VA.