Focusing on patient engagement offers a multitude of advantages for healthcare providers, from improved clinical outcomes and lower costs to better reimbursement. It also aids in improved operational efficiency and boosts population health and value-based care initiatives. 

As noted by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC), healthcare technology is a powerful tool to help increase patient engagement. For example, secure electronic messaging can be used to promote care coordination between visits, handle routine health issues, address patient questions and concerns, monitor patient conditions, adjust care plans in a timely manner and help patients better manage their conditions. 

Another technology increasingly being employed to improve patient outcomes and boost engagement is telehealth. There are many pros of telehealth. In addition to enabling healthcare providers to  make sure patients are sticking to their care plans, it’s convenient, minimizes the spread of infectious diseases and can reduce unnecessary emergency department (ED) visits. 

Healthcare Access Challenges for Veterans

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, telehealth technologies were being utilized to provide access to healthcare for some of the United States’ 19 million veterans, many of whom are at increased risk of physical and mental health needs. Rural residents account for roughly onequarter of the U.S. veteran population and approximately onethird of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) caseload. 

Many veterans face numerous barriers to healthcare, the biggest of which is the distance from medical services. Some rural veterans face poverty, homelessness and substance use disorder, which can exacerbate their health issues while others are unaware of the benefits, services and facilities available to them through the VA. 

This lack of healthcare goes beyond physical health. Only about half of all veterans who need mental health care ever receive it due to organizational, logistical and social barriers, including provider shortcomings, access limitations and personal and social attitudes regarding the stigma of behavioral health care.

Telehealth Services from the Veterans Health Administration

To meet the healthcare needs of U.S. veterans, including those living in rural regions, the Department of Veterans Affairs has produced national quality, implementation and development resources to ensure local telehealth services from more than 1,245 sites of care. VA telehealth modalities consist of:·         

  • Clinical Video Telehealth

CVT is defined as the use of real-time interactive video conferencing, sometimes with supportive peripheral technologies, to assess, treat and provide care to VA patients remotely.

  • Home Telehealth

HT is defined as a telehealth program into which veterans are enrolled that applies care and case management principles to coordinate care using health informatics, disease management and technologies such as in-home and mobile monitoring, messaging and/or video technologies.

  • Store and Forward Telehealth 

SFT is generally defined as the use of technologies to asynchronously acquire and store clinical information (e.g., data, image, sound and video) that is then forwarded to or retrieved by a provider at another location for clinical evaluation. 

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the VA was conducting 40,000 telehealth appointments each month (fewer than 2,500 per day). Now, the veterans agency is managing that many telehealth appointments each day. High satisfaction scores have been reported by veterans who have used the technology, including 92 percent for CVT, 88 percent for HT and 94 percent for SFT. 

Department of Veterans Affairs Telehealth Offerings

The Department of Veterans Affairs continues to examine new ways to expand care and enhance its telehealth care offerings for the more than six million veterans receiving VA healthcare from approximately 177,000 clinical employees. In September, the agency sought contractors for a $1 billion telehealth contract as it seeks to modernize its system. 

Examples of VA telehealth programs include VA Video Connect, through which veterans have the capability to meet providers in virtual medical rooms using the camera on a smartphone, computer, tablet or other mobile devices. Its ATLAS (Accessing Telehealth through Local Area Stations) program offers convenient locations for veterans to access VA healthcare in their communities, and VA Mobile develops apps that give both veterans and VA providers safe and secure mobile access to important health data. 

Even veterans who want better access to sleep care are covered by a Department of Veterans Affairs telehealth program. The VA’s TeleSleep program, which included virtual clinical encounters, home sleep apnea testing and a web application for veterans and providers to remotely monitor symptoms, sleep quality and use of positive airway pressure (PAP) therapy, improved patient experiences across multiple aspects of care including a reduction in travel burden, increased access to clinicians and remote monitoring and patient-reported health and quality of life outcomes. 

For the reported 30 percent of Vietnam veterans, 11-20 percent of service members who served in Operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom and 12 out of every 100 Gulf War military personnel who have experienced post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) during their lifetime, the VA offers telepsychiatry. In a study that examined veterans’ attitudes about the potential use of telepsychiatry for mental health services in routine clinical settings, one-third of participants indicated a clear preference for telepsychiatry compared to in-person care.  

Advantages for Veterans, VA Providers and Other Healthcare Entities

Telehealth allows residents living in rural areas to receive a higher quality of care, reduces costs and promotes continuity of care through real-time communication, responsive concern and reduced admissions. Telehealth solutions deployed for chronic populations can improve total cost of care by up to three percent, making them valuable tools to use in value-based reimbursement models that reward hospitals and health systems for lower utilization costs. 

For healthcare providers, a telehealth program can reduce patient no-show rates, which cost the healthcare industry $150 billion annually. Across all specialties, the average no-show rate is 23 percent for in-person care. According to the National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA), physician practices and health systems consistently report lower no-show rates with telehealth, especially in behavioral care where telehealth removes the stigma of visiting a behavioral clinic. 

At Providertech, we know that emerging technologies make it easier than ever to simplify and streamline telehealth. For example, our vaccine management program can help you effectively and efficiently vaccinate your patients while protecting their privacy. To learn more, schedule a free demo with one of our telehealth experts today. Also, check out our Step-by-Step Guide to Launching Telehealth at Your Practice.