VA embarks on major telehealth Initiative to deliver critical healthcare services to veterans in rural regions

April 11, 2019

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is preparing a major expansion of its telehealth programs that will allow veterans to access the services as selected location operated by the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and American Legion, and even in select Walmart stores.

The new project, Advancing Telehealth through Local Access Stations (ATLAS), hopes to give veterans living in rural or remote areas quality healthcare, which would include clinical lab testing, reported the Dark Daily yesterday, suggesting the development could provide new collaborative opportunities for labs with access to VA patients in remote areas of the country.  U.S. Census data indicates some five million of the nation’s estimated 20 million veterans are living in rural regions. It’s no surprise, really, as telehealth appears to be booming across the nation.

Read more at HPN.

“Medical laboratory leaders will find it useful to follow the progress of this initiative, because when the VA completes a major project such as this proposed telehealth program, the results often serve as a proof-of-concept that can lead to wider acceptance among Medicare and private insurers of similar projects in the civilian community,” Dark Daily reports.

The ATLAS initiative was announced at the VA’s Anywhere to Anywhere, Together summit in Washington DC and would include partnerships with such private-sector companies as T-Mobile, Walmart, and Philips. The roles of these big three would include the following:

· Philips will equip 10 VFW and American Legion posts with its telehealth technology

· Walmart will dedicate store space and technical support to host VA-led telehealth appointments in select stores across the country

· T-Mobile will provide 70,000 wireless service lines that will enable veterans to use the VA’s encrypted, secure Video Connect telehealth app without incurring charges regardless of their data plan.

After rolling out its Anywhere to Anywhere, Together program in 2017, the VA rose to become the nation’s largest telehealth provider, stating in a press release that it provided more than a million video telehealth visits in 2018  - a 19% increase over the prior year. More than 100,000 were conducted using the VA Video Connect application on mobile devices or home computers.

There is some concern, however, that certain barrier could slow adoption. According to a 2018 Telemental Health Laws Survey from the law firm Epstein Becker Green reimbursement and regulatory barriers continue to block widespread adoption of telehealth services.

“Despite Medicaid’s fewer restrictions on telehealth coverage as compared to its Medicare counterpart, there is limited federal guidance or information regarding the implementation of telehealth services in state Medicaid programs or coverage parameters for states choosing to offer such services,” the attorneys stated in a press release.