The U.S Department of Veterans Administration takes a lot of heat about the quality of healthcare services it delivers. But the agency keeps busy developing more digital healthcare programs veterans can access.
In the past few weeks, the VA, which treats more than 6 million patients who served in the military annually, has a new web feature that lets veterans see medical scans online. The agency also is moving to expand how quickly veterans can utilize telehealth services to see a physician online.
On Friday, the VA announced a new federal rule that will allow VA doctors, nurses and other healthcare providers to administer care to veterans using telehealth regardless of where in the U.S. the provider or veteran is located, including when care will occur across state lines or outside a VA facility.
Previously, it was unclear whether VA providers could furnish care to veterans in other states through telehealth because of licensing restrictions or state-specific telehealth laws. This new rule exercises federal preemption to override those state restrictions, paving the way for VA to expand care to veterans using telehealth, the agency says.
“By enabling veterans nationwide to receive care at home, the rule will especially benefit veterans living in rural areas who would otherwise need to travel a considerable distance or across state lines to receive care,” says VA acting secretary Robert Wilkie. “The rule also will expand access to critical care that can be provided virtually—such as mental healthcare and suicide prevention—by allowing quicker and easier access to VA mental health providers through telehealth.”
The VA didn’t say how much it is currently spending on digital doctor visits for veterans, but the number of patients and providers utilizing telehealth is growing. Since its launch in August 2017, more than 20,000 veterans have used the VA Video Connect telehealth program to receive care, and currently more than 4,000 VA providers across the country are set up to use the system, the VA says.
On April 30, the agency made getting medical images easier for veterans. A new online feature through the My HealtheVet portal allows veterans to access their medical images and associated reports online.
Called VA Medical Images and Reports, the feature allows veterans with a premium account to view, download and share copies of their radiology studies, such as X-rays, mammograms, MRIs and CTs.
“With VA Medical Images and Reports, patients have the option of obtaining their images and reports online, eliminating the need to visit a VA facility to acquire a copy of their information,” says Wilkie. “This feature aligns with VA Blue Button’s concept, which simplifies patient access to their personal health information by allowing them to retrieve it securely online.”
Veterans can view a list of accessible radiology studies, which are available in the VA digital healthcare portal three calendar days after the study has been verified. When a request for a specific study is completed, veterans can view a lower-resolution thumbnail copy of the images and the associated radiology report online, or download a zip file that contains the report and diagnostic-quality images. For studies with large files, veterans can choose to receive an email notification when the download request is complete.
“With VA Medical Images and Reports, patients have the option of obtaining their images and reports online, eliminating the need to visit a VA facility to acquire a copy of their information,” says Wilkie. “This feature simplifies patient access to their personal health information by allowing them to retrieve it securely online.”
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