- The VA might be struggling to find its way out of very hot water when it comes to its scheduling services, but there’s more to the healthcare system than the mushrooming scandal. The VA has long been a leader in the telemedicine arena, and a new study published by Adam Darkins, Chief Consultant for Telehealth Services, highlights some very positive results from the suite of programs and pilots. Eleven percent of veterans received some portion of their care remotely in 2013, with the number of patients accessing telehealth through the VA growing approximately 22% annually, Darkins says. Remote programs have contributed to a 35% reduction in hospital admissions among home telehealth patients and a 59% reduction in bed days of care throughout 2013.
In the past year, the VA’s telehealth services have provided nearly 1.8 million episodes of care to over 608,000 patients. Forty-five percent of those patients lived in rural areas with limited access to physical facilities, and may not have received adequate care without clinical video services, mHealth, and home health services to support self-management for depression, PTSD, and other chronic conditions. Of the 144,520 patients enrolled in home telehealth services, 41,430 are living independently in their own homes instead of relying on long-term institutional care.
The successful home telehealth program has saved approximately $2000 per patient per annum, Darkins reports, with a patient satisfaction score of 84 percent. Clinical video telehealth services, which cover 44 specialties including dermatology, cardiology, mental health, and amputation care, has produced a 94% patient satisfaction score and a savings of $34.45 per consultation.
Remote mental health care reduced bed days of care by 38 percent, the study adds, with more than 1.1 million patient encounters delivered since 2003. In 2013 alone, there were 278,000 patient encounters dealing with mental health at more than 150 VA medical centers and 729 community-based outpatient clinics. Almost 7500 patients with chronic mental health conditions are living independently thanks to telehealth support.
“Telehealth training is not offered in medical schools, or included in health professional curricula,” Darkins writes. “With over 8,146 sites of care many in rural and remote locations, technology support is a critical success factor in developing telehealth services, and a risk that must be mitigated in their subsequent sustainment. Telehealth crosses traditional boundaries between information technology and biomedical engineering services, requiring comprehensive and dedicated support.”
“Telehealth in VA is the forerunner of a wider vision, one in which the relationship between patients and the health care system will dramatically change with the full realization of the ‘connected patient,’” Darkins concludes. “The high levels of patient satisfaction with telehealth, and positive clinical outcomes, attest to this direction being the right one.”