As Independence Day approaches, it’s always inspiring to see the increase in tributes to our veterans. Of course, we all know it’s important to ensure they get the respect they deserve all the time – and that’s why it’s exciting to hear about great things happening in the world of healthcare for our veterans.
Recently, the Department of Veteran’s Affairs (VA) has faced criticism as a result of complaints about long wait times at VA facilities and limited access to healthcare providers in rural areas. In response, the VA announced at the American Telemedicine Association conference last month that they will be increasing access to mental health facilities via telehealth and expanding their services – including the improvement of internal support services.
According to David J. Shulkin, the VA’s Undersecretary for Health, the addition of “mental health telehealth resource centers will provide our veterans in underserved areas the expert mental health providers they may not otherwise be able to obtain locally. We know that we are doing more in telehealth than any other healthcare system and connecting mental health providers to areas hard to recruit and retain.”
The Veterans E-Health and Telemedicine Support Act of 2015 (VETS Act of 2015), introduced to the Senate late last year, would allow VA physicians to provide telehealth services to patients in any state, regardless of whether the professional or patient is located in a federally-owned facility. Supporters of this bill note that telehealth services expand the accessibility, efficiency and effectiveness of treatment for veterans, which could be incredibly beneficial to those who are disabled, live in rural areas, or are living with mental health issues.
Across the country, telehealth is helping veterans who reside in rural areas and are not located near a VA facility. With telemental health care, patients may connect to providers from their home or local provider. In addition, telehealth solutions have been shown to reduce hospital admissions and bed days of care. On average, it is providing a cost savings of up to $2,000 per patient on medical costs and travel.
With veterans plagued with mental illnesses such as PTSD, chronic depression, bipolar disorder, and other mental issues, Shulkin also notes that approximately 40 percent of veterans move away from urban areas when they’re discharged in favor of quieter, rural locations. Increasingly, providers, including the VA, believe that telehealth is the answer to reaching this critical population of people in need of mental health services.
Do you have a telehealth story to share? If so, let us know in the comments section below.