Not all is gloom ‘n’ doom at the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), rightly excoriated for cooking the books on wait times for admissions, allowing an estimated 40 veterans to die waiting for care at the epicenter of the coverup, a Phoenix VA hospital, its secretary resigning. A consistent bright spot has been its use of telehealth and telemedicine, along with the Department of Defense (DOD), making them the largest US telehealth contractors. Neurosurgeon Adam Darkins, MD, who is their chief consultant for telehealth services, kept a speaking date at Tuesday’s Government Health IT Conference in Washington, DC to present encouraging results.
- The VA’s FY2013 telehealth program totaled 608,900 patients and 1.8 million telehealth episodes of care. 45 percent of the patient population live in rural areas, receiving care from 151 VA Medical Centers (VAMC) and over 705 Community Based Outpatient Clinics (CBOCs)
- 2009 to 2012 data show showed a 4 percent cost reduction after a year in a telehealth program, versus a one-year spike of 48 percent in costs for those veterans outside telehealth
- Cost savings are estimated at just under $2,000 per year per patient
- Over 41,000 patients were enabled to live independently in their homes using telehealth
- VA also leads in telemental health, with its National Center providing 2,893 video consults to 1,033 patients at 53 sites in 24 states
- The program is expanding at a rate of 22 percent per year
VA’s telehealth covers six areas: clinical video telehealth, home telehealth, store and forward, teleradiology, secure messaging and mobile health. It is also facilitated by the fact that any VA physician or clinician can legally cover VA telehealth patients resident in any state, which is not true in the civilian sector except in integrated health systems and in a few states with reciprocity.