The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically altered the daily lives of Veterans across the country. This includes how they are connecting with their VA health care teams. They are increasingly using VA technologies such as My HealtheVet, VA’s online health portal, and VA Video Connect, VA’s secure video visit application.
VA has been a leader in using technology to connect with Veterans for well over a decade. And the use of VA’s digital health has been consistently increasing year over year. The COVID-19 pandemic has made those services essential. Many Veterans have been staying at home, taking precautions against the coronavirus.
“VA’s connected technologies allow us deliver care to Veterans in a way that is convenient and fits into their daily lives,” said Dr. Neil Evans. Evans is VA’s chief officer for the Office of Connected Care. “VA has been a national leader in telehealth for more than a decade. It delivers care to Veterans in more than 50 clinical specialties across a variety of applications and platforms.”
Three of the most popular tools
One of the most popular tools Veterans are using to connect with their VA health care teams is VA Video Connect. That program lets Veterans connect by video with their VA care teams while staying home. Even more highly utilized is My HealtheVet. VA’s online patient portal lets Veterans request VA prescription refills, review their medical records and connect directly with their health care providers through secure online messages. Veterans are also increasingly using VA’s Mobile App Store. There, they can download apps that offer assistance with pain management, self-care reminders and more.
The goal of these services is to make VA the health care the system of choice for Veterans and provide services that make access to care more convenient. VA has been pioneering telehealth solutions and increasing adoption among Veterans and providers. Now with COVID-19 necessitating increased precautions for in-person interaction, the services provided by Connected Care are more popular than ever.
More Veterans are adopting VA’s digital health technology options
On March 1, 2020, 9% of Veterans enrolled in VA health care used telehealth for part of their care. Over the next three months, that percentage more than doubled. By the end of June, 18% of Veterans were using telehealth. More than 1.1 million Veterans used digital health options in fiscal year 2020, through the end of June. Those options include synchronous, asynchronous or remote patient monitoring.
Telehealth video visits to the Veteran’s home or other non-VA place of choice have increased by 1,132% since February. VA providers conducted approximately 11,000 visits a week during the last week in February. That number has risen more than 12-fold, exceeding 138,700 visits a week in late June.
My HealtheVet has processed over 11.2 million VA prescription refill requests and managed over 11.6 million secure messages between Veterans and their health care teams from January to June 2020. Compared to the same period in 2019, these increases represent approximately 911,000 additional prescription refill requests and more than 2.8 million additional secure messages sent between Veterans and their health care teams.
All care can start with a virtual discussion
“Telehealth technologies are allowing us to support Veterans as they connect with their providers for routine appointments, mental health appointments, specialty care discussions, and much more. Granted, not all care can be delivered remotely. But all care can at least start with a virtual discussion, which has been extremely valuable for optimizing Veterans’ care during the current pandemic,” Evans said.
Evans recalled some recent successes in expanding telehealth programs for Veterans. A Florida nurse was able to conduct virtual visits using VA Video Connect with almost 70% of her cardiology patients during the pandemic. A VA physical therapist is using VA Video Connect to train traumatic brain injury patients in using a specialized assistive mobility device.
Minimizing the digital divide for Veterans in rural areas
VA is also committed to reducing the digital divide so that all Veterans can fully participate in telehealth services. That includes Veterans who live in rural areas.
To support Veterans whose mobile phone plans have limited data services, VA has partnered with Verizon Wireless, T-Mobile, Sprint, and SafeLink by TracFone to provide data at no charge to Veterans using VA Video Connect.
VA is also providing eligible Veterans with technology to use in their homes. Since March, VA has distributed 12,838 tablets to Veterans. Veterans across the country use more than 44,800 VA-issued tablets. Those Veterans didn’t previously have access to the necessary internet service or technology at home to connect with VA.
Telehealth technologies are more available and Veterans are more familiar with VA Video Connect as an option for care. Evans predicted that services like VA video appointments will continue to be widely used, even after the pandemic subsides.
Evans recommends that Veterans talk with their VA care provider to learn what connected services are available to them or visit connectedcare.va.gov for more information.
Treva Lutes is the communications lead for the Office of Connected Care.