VA Announces Telehealth Partnerships With Walmart, Philips, T-Mobile
The Department of Veterans Affairs is extending its telemedicine network with a series of partnerships aimed at improving access to connected health services for rural and remote veterans.
At this week’s “Anywhere to Anywhere Together” summit in Washington DC, the VA announced connected care programs with Walmart, T-Mobile and Philips designed to give veterans more opportunities to connect with healthcare providers through telehealth.
“These types of events will help accelerate our shared journey to fully integrated, seamless access to healthcare no matter where a veteran resides,” VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said in a press release. “Indeed, from anywhere to anywhere. We thank our industry and community partners for their commitment to improving veterans’ healthcare.”
With an estimated 900,000 telemedicine encounters reported in 2017, the VA is one of the largest connected care networks in the country. It also laid the groundwork for former VA Secretary David Shulkin’s “Anywhere to Anywhere VA Health Care Initiative,” unveiled in 2017, which seeks to create a national telemedicine network that could reach out and help veterans in their homes or at locations other than VA hospitals.
This week’s announcements aim to further that reach, particularly to veterans living in rural and remote parts of the country. Estimates are that at least a third of the nation’s veterans fit that category.
In its deal with Philips, the VA will use Philips telemedicine technology to establish telehealth services at 10 Veterans of Foreign wars and American Legion posts across the country. Walmart will be establishing similar telehealth stations at some of its locations, while T-Mobile has agreed to host the VA’s Video Connect mHealth app for free on digital health devices used by veterans.
“(It) totally changes the VA’s footprint for delivering care,” Deborah Scher, executive adviser to the Secretary’s Center for Strategic Partnerships at the department, told the Federal News Network. “We mapped out where our veterans are in greatest concentration against VA facilities, and then we put the Walmart map on top of that. Ninety percent of Americans live within 10 miles of a Walmart. Ninety percent of veterans don’t live within 10 miles of a VA medical center. This totally changes their ability to access care in a way that works for their lives.”
Sher added that the VA is working with other corporations, including all major phone companies, to create more telehealth partnerships.
Shulkin’s ambitious program, launched earlier this year, included the directive that any VA-sanctioned provider could treat a veteran via telehealth no matter where each is located, bypassing any state laws and guidelines regarding connected care. That rule was supported by Congress in The Veterans E-Health & Telemedicine Support (VETS) Act of 2017, which passed unanimously in both chambers.
The new programs also continue federal and VA efforts to improve access to telemental health services for veterans dealing with PTSD and other mental health issues.
“Mental health is still the last, great uncharted frontier in medicine,” Wilkie told FNN. “Telehealth, to me, is the first step in finally breaking those last barriers. It allows our veterans who may have those issues to talk to our professionals (and) talk to our doctors without the pressure that they would encounter in a public setting, without the pressures that they would encounter in traditional medical service facilities.”