Due to the COVID-19 emergency, veterans are logging onto the VA Video Connect app more than 120,000 times a week to access care, a 1,000 percent increase in traffic compared to a typical three-month span.
– Veterans used telehealth to access care more than 120,000 times a week during the height of the coronavirus pandemic, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.
That’s more than a 1,000 percent increase over the usual traffic recorded on the VA Video Connect mHealth app, officials said. The three-year-old platform, touted as one of the nation’s best connected health programs, typically sees 10,000 visits a week.
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“As we near the three-year anniversary of the launch of VA Video Connect, even during these challenging times, VA has and continues to maintain access to high-quality health care for Veterans,” VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said in a press release announcing the statistics. “As the service becomes more popular, VA remains committed to providing a seamless user experience to ensure Veterans have access to care where and when they need it.”
With many of the nation’s 2.6 million veterans living in remote locations, dealing with mobility or transportation issues or simply hesitant to travel to the nearest hospital, the nation’s largest health system has been moving to embrace connected health. The number of veterans accessing healthcare through telehealth jumped 17 percent from 2018 to 2019, while virtual visits made through the VA Video Connect app jumped 235 percent.
That popularity has caught the eye of a couple Senators who say the VA could use more support.
Roughly one month ago, Senators Kelly Loeffler (R-GA) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) introduced a bill aimed at expanding the ranks of care providers licensed by the VA to use telehealth.
The bill, called the VA Mission Telehealth Clarification Act, expands on the landmark VA Mission Act, signed into law in June 2018, which greatly expanded the VA’s telemedicine and mHealth network by, among other things, giving VA care providers the authority to treat veterans in any location.
A companion bill was filed in the House in June 2019 by US Rep. Earl “Buddy” Carter (R-GA), who noted the original act allowed only doctors to deliver care.
“This meant that only doctors could provide services through telehealth, not students, interns, residents or fellows,” he said. “This is a major problem especially for interns, residents and fellows who have graduated medical school and are training to become full time doctors because they are not able to get the necessary experience in telehealth at the VA until the time they become fully licensed.”
With their bill, Loeffler and Sinema put the emphasis on hardships caused by COVID-19.
“Increasing telehealth access for Arizona veterans will help keep them safe during the Coronavirus pandemic and make health care more accessible today and into the future,” Sinema said in a press release.
In his announcement, Wilkie said the VA is taking steps to expand veteran access to healthcare through telemedicine and mHealth technology. The agency has distributed more than 26,000 tablets to veterans and is working with wireless carriers like Verizon, T-Mobile and Sprint to ensure access without incurring data charges.