The Department of Veterans Affairs’ Telehealth Program Is Leading the Way in Telemedicine

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The Department of Veterans Affairs' telehealth program is growing.

The telemedicine industry has found its champion, an organization that may be able to fight on its behalf. That (somewhat unlikely) champion is the Department of Veterans Affairs, and the battle is for credibility and trust in the eyes of the public.

The VA isn’t high on anybody’s list of progressive tech organizations, but it spends billions annually on research and development of telemedicine. It’s the kind of trusted, brick-and-mortar medical network that can help solve the dilemma of why most Americans say they are open to healthcare over a video conference connection, but relatively few have tried it. With the Department of Veterans Affairs’ telehealth programs, such as a new venture into virtual urology, the VA can prove online treatment works, and begin convincing patients that remote medicine is a valuable extension of the in-room consultations they still prefer.

Overcoming Telemedicine Doubts

Recent research by international consultancy firm Advisory Board shows the average person sees telemedicine as a theoretical and not a practical science. A survey of 5,000 people found that while 77% said they were willing to try virtual medicine, less than 20% and done so. This is despite a recent surge in virtual doctor apps, and a growing acceptance of the format by major institutions and state governments that has made virtual healthcare more accessible.

Indeed, the industry is expected to double in commercial value from its current worth of $16 billion to $38 billion by 2022. It won’t reach those heights, however, if it keeps failing to turn curiosity into real-world use.

According to Advisory Board, the two biggest hurdles to that conversion are a fear that online quality of care can’t match the real-world version, and that telemedicine can’t produce an accurate diagnosis, which will waste patient time and force them to visit a brick-and-mortar clinic anyway.

The VA is combating that problem by researching and implementing new programs, such as virtual urology.

Urology by Video Conference

Last year, the VA spent $1.2 billion on telemedicine research and delivery and conducted two million remote consultations. That added up to more than 700,000 veterans receiving medical care and advice over their computers and mobile devices–a significant proportion of the 5.8 million veterans under its care. Not content with those figures, the Department went to Congress earlier this year to ask that regulations requiring a telemedicine patient to be in proximity to a remote healthcare provider be relaxed so it could deliver services to rural and remote areas, and across state borders.

This isn’t technology for technology’s sake, either. The new frontier of virtual urology, for instance, cuts the average consultation time in half and gives veterans in remote areas regular access to expert treatment. The program, operated by the University of Michigan, focuses on the follow-up appointments and home-based recovery of patients who’ve undergone treatment for serious conditions such as prostate cancer.

Using commercial iPads and secure, HIPAA-compliant video conferencing apps, like Vidyo, a patient can speak in person with their doctor from the comfort of their own home. The physician, in turn, can put a patient through all the necessary verbal and visual tests to accurately gauge their recovery and make adjustments to their treatment in real-time. In addition, the virtual program saved each patient an average of 277 travel miles, 290 minutes of travel time, and nearly $200 in costs.

VA research into virtual urology found that 95% of patients rated the quality of healthcare as “very good” or “excellent,” and that 97% would refer a fellow veteran to remote urology care.

That’s a good way to start convincing people to give telemedicine a try.

The Veterans Affairs’ Telehealth Program Could Help Expand Telemedicine

The VA’s telemedicine efforts are currently focused on delivering services to patients in remote areas who would otherwise have to travel to receive treatment. However, it can help any patient facing mobility issues. Almost 1-in-5 Americans suffer a disability, and 1

The Department of Veterans Affairs seal

-in-8 adults have serious difficulty walking. All these people would benefit from virtual home visits via telehealth.

It works at the other end of the spectrum, too, for those who are too busy to drop everything and visit a doctor. Working parents of young children, for example, especially single parents, might be more likely to visit the doctor if they can do so over their smartphone or laptop when and wherever they can find a spare 15 minutes.

Every potential telehealth patient, however, must have confidence in the system’s security, efficiency, and quality if they’re going to take full advantage of its potential. To that end, the VA’s efforts to expand telehealth and win the approval of its patients can go a long way to building confidence among the wider public.

Image Sources: Flickr CC Users Milwaukee VA Medical Center, Intel Free Press, Donkeyhotey

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