Veterans Affairs boosts telehealth, HIT in proposed 2016/2017 budgets

The US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), in its proposed 2016 budget released earlier this week, is increasing support for telehealth/mHealth along with programs that use these services–rural health and mental health. Telehealth’s VA budget from FY 2014 increased from $986 million to just below $1.1 billion in the current year. In FY 2016 (beginning 1 Oct), the VA is allocating $1.22 billion of a $56 billion budget, and in 2017 advance appropriations, $1.37 billion–a year-to-year increase of 11 percent and 12 percent respectively .

VA has the largest telehealth program in the US, divided into three main functional areas: clinical video telehealth (clinical videoconferencing), home telehealth (both via medical monitoring devices including mobile, and doctor-patient video consults) and store and forward telehealth (imaging). Home telehealth is used by about 23 percent of the VA’s patients in the telehealth program, which is the largest in the US.

Other VA areas that incorporate telehealth into various programs are mental health, which uses telemental health assessment and monitoring as part of its services, and the Office of Rural Health/Rural Health Initiative which has initiatives in home-based primary care, home based therapies and rural Community Based Outpatient Clinics (CBOCs). Mental health is increasing by 3-5 percent while Rural Health Initiative spending remains at 2015 budget levels.

VA Office of Information and Technology spending will increase to $4.1 billion, an increase of 5.8 percent. 2016’s major projects include electronic sharing of interoperable healthcare data with DoD and community partners, cybersecurity and the Veterans Benefit Management System. Department of Veterans Affairs–Budget in Brief 2016 (pages 14-16), mHealth News, Military Times.

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