The department of Veterans Affairs is unveiling a new initiative to greatly increase the use of telemedicine for veterans across the country.
President Trump and Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin, MD, have announced the rollout of a new app designed to build out telehealth tools and services for veterans, making virtual care more accessible.
The app, called Veteran Appointment Request, will work in conjunction with VA Video Connect — which has been in development and trials with more than 300 VA clinicians at 76 hospitals since the Obama administration – to connect patients to VA doctors from wherever they are in the United States.
“We’re expanding the ability of veterans to connect with their VA healthcare team from anywhere using mobile application on the veteran’s own phone or the veteran’s own computer,” President Trump said. “This will significantly expand access to care for our veterans, especially for those who need help in the area of mental health, which is a bigger and bigger request, and also in suicide prevention.”
Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin called the move “a big deal” for veteran’s 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 healthcare professionals,” Shulkin said. The VA Video Connect app is currently in use in 250 VA facilities, and is expected to complete its nationwide rollout in October.
While telemedicine has been advancing technologically and growing increasingly popular over the last decade, outdated state-based regulations have largely impeded the technology’s potential. Current regulations forbid a doctor from practicing medicine in any state where he or she does not have a license. However, being a federal program, these rules are not applicable to VA hospitals or clinics, and patients can video-chat with any VA doctor anywhere in the country. This recent announcement also includes an important change that allows the patients to engage in video-chats with doctors from their own home or from a private medical facility, eliminating the previous rule that patients had to be physically on Federal ground.
Advances in telemedicine are helping the VA alleviate their overcrowding problem, better care for veterans who live in rural areas, and provide care for older vets who are infirm and have difficulty traveling to the nearest VA clinic. Telemedicine services are now also being offered to troops who are currently deployed on active duty as well. With all the current noise and debate about the state of our healthcare system, hopefully Congress will take a look at the steps the VA is taking and think about ways these kinds of changes can also benefit the public at large.
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