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Telemedicine Changing the Way Veterans Approach Healthcare

By Matthew Vulpis
December 22, 2020

Since the beginning of the COVID pandemic, the healthcare industry has been put under immense pressure due to an increased demand for efficient and accurate healthcare. Amidst the pandemic, to meet these demands, the healthcare industry has turned towards the incorporation of telemedicine, with many connected devices and other telemedicine services slowly becoming more common. While beneficial to the entire healthcare industry, the veteran portion of the population has seen significant improvement in healthcare thanks to the adoption of telemedicine devices and services into their lives.

The Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) has already implemented telemedicine, being one of the first to see its potential, adopting telemedicine devices and services as early as 2003. The VA is responsible for providing healthcare to the nation’s 18.2 million veterans, serving more than 9 million veterans every year.

However, when it comes to seeking care many veterans often face challenges, with location being the biggest obstacle. 45 percent of veterans live in rural areas, with 57 percent of those veterans being over the age of 65. With the closest VA healthcare facility possibly hours away, these rural based veterans have limited access to the healthcare being provided. This is where telemedicine comes in, as the technology gives veterans an effective and convenient way to receive, and clinicians to provide, VA care.

Older adults often have multiple chronic conditions and aging-related issues that require care from multiple disciplines, including primary care, specialty care, mental health care, and coordinated health and social services, with veterans of course being no exception. Veterans with chronic conditions often require ongoing and frequent healthcare, and with limited access to a VA facility, veterans are tasked with tracking their own health and wellness. This is no easy task, but with the help of telemedicine devices, veterans are able to keep track of their own results, as well as communicate with a physician virtually when necessary.

We asked Dr. Tina Miranda, Chief Medical Officer and Co-Founder of TeleMedCo, a company that offers a variety of telemedicine connected devices, her thoughts on how veteran healthcare benefits from the use of telemedicine. “Veterans with chronic illnesses often receive limited support for the self-management tasks they must perform at home post-discharge, thus can feel overwhelmed. Clinicians face competing demands and cannot routinely engage in tailored post-discharge follow up with Veterans beyond the scope of usual care. Telemedicine gives these veterans access to the healthcare provided to them, while reducing complications, hospitalizations, and clinic or emergency room visits for Veterans.”

Telemedicine services have also been found to benefit the treatment of mental health conditions in veterans, negating the perceived stigma associated with mental health care in active military service personnel and Veterans, by providing services directly in patients' homes. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is very prevalent in the veteran population, with 500,000 veterans being diagnosed with PTSD in the past decade. However, telemedicine devices and services have been found very effective for delivering evidence-based psychotherapies to rural Veterans with PTSD, while also having similar benefits in the treatment of other mental health conditions.

“Technology provides unique opportunities for increasing access to follow-up care after inpatient mental health treatment, particularly for patients who have historically faced significant barriers to participating in on-site appointments,” said Dr. Miranda. “Providing services to a patient’s place of residence has both direct and less obvious benefits, all of which are associated with high levels of patient satisfaction, apparent reduction in psychiatric symptom burden, and the prompt addressing of treatment needs.”

Even once the COVID pandemic subsides, telemedicine devices and services will continue to play a major part in the healthcare process of veterans. The VA is committed to increasing access to care for veterans, and has implemented national quality, implementation, and development resources to ensure local services from more than 900 VA locations.

“Telemedicine services are mission-critical to the future direction of VA care to Veterans,” said Dr. Miranda when asked about the future of telemedicine in the veteran healthcare industry. “Telemedicine in VA is the forerunner of a wider vision in which the relationship between patients and the healthcare system is changed with the full realization of the connected patient.”

Edited by Maurice Nagle

Content Contributor

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