In partnership with the White House Office of American Innovation, the Veterans Affairs Department announced an expansion of its telehealth services or “anywhere to anywhere” health care.
The department will issue a joint regulation with the Office of American Innovation and Justice Department to allow all VA providers to administer telehealth services to veterans anywhere in the country.
Existing telehealth programs provided care to more than 700,000 veterans last year and covered at least 50 different specialties, from dentistry to dermatology.
“We’re removing regulations that have prevented us from doing this,” VA Secretary David Shulkin said during a Aug. 3 White House announcement. “We’re removing geography as a barrier so that we can speed up access to veterans and really honor our commitment to them.”
President Donald Trump, who watched Shulkin and other VA doctors demonstrate a live interaction with a veteran patient using video, said the program will help VA expand access to care across the country, particularly in rural locations and for veterans who need mental health care.
“That means we’re going to be able to use VA providers in cities where there are a lot of doctors, and be able to use those doctors to help our veterans in rural areas where there aren’t many health care professionals,” Shulkin said. “And you talked about mental health and suicide prevention; this is one of those areas that we can really use that expertise.”
Shulkin this year named suicide prevention as his top clinical priority. He also recently announced an expansion of VA mental health services to veterans who received a less than honorable discharge from service.
To help them administer the telehealth program, the department will roll out VA Video Connect to providers nationwide. Currently, about 300 VA providers use it at 67 hospitals and clinics.
Video Connect lets VA providers use their mobile devices to see and speak with veterans on their own mobile devices or home computers.
Shulkin, a doctor himself who still sees veterans, spoke with one of his patients in Grants Pass, Oregon, through the video screen.
The department will also roll out its Veterans Appointment Request (VAR) application nationwide. The app lets veterans schedule, change or cancel their own appointments with VA providers on their own time. VA currently has the app working in 18 regions but plans to expand it to the rest of the country.