Coordinated Care Management

July 19, 2012

Hard-to-Reach Vets May Now be Cared for by Out-of-State Doctors through Telemedicine

In my opinion we don’t do nearly enough for veterans, but House members from both sides of the aisle are coming together to sponsor a bill that will help veterans get access to healthcare even if they live in rural areas, far from good doctors, or unable, because of age or disability to get to office visits, through telemedicine services.

Now, with the Veterans E-Health & Telemedicine Support (VETS) Act of 2012 (H.R. 6107), providers affiliated with the Department of Veterans Affairs will be able to serve vets not only in the states where they practice, but also across state lines. In the past, providers needed to be licensed in the same state as their patients.

The report notes that the bill is part of a new effort by the federal government to adopt telemedicine as a means of treating service members, veterans and their families.  “The requirement was for a provider to have multiple licenses, which can take months,” said Gary Capistrant, senior director of public policy for the ATA – which has long campaigned for cross-state licensing for telemedicine services.“It may be you just have one visit with a person in a particular state, and you’re not going to go through that for one person.”

The VA has gone even further, according to the story, dropping co-payments charged to veterans for telehealth consultations and hopes to provide 200,000 remote consultations by the end of this year (up from 140,000 last year).

Telemedicine is not new to the government. In 2008, it began studying whether telemedicine could successfully be used to provide mental health help to veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Telemedicine has also been used to make it easier to provide diagnosis, referral, monitoring, medical information  interchange, and intervention to reduce the higher costs associated with hard-to-reach patients.

A RAND Corp survey conducted earlier this year found that nearly 20 percent of military personnel returning from Iraq and Afghanistan have shown symptoms of PTSD.

Two years ago, Alice Lipowicz reports, thousands of retired veterans began slipping on electronic cuffs at home that recorded their pulse and blood pressure and sent the information to care coordinators at the Veterans Health Administration. The patients also were able to punch buttons in an electronic desktop box to indicate whether they felt short of breath or had swollen ankles to flag all problems that needed immediate attention.

Also, last week the VA announced a $15 million, three-year Specialty Care Access Network-Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes program to help rural healthcare providers receive training and help in delivering telemedicine services to veterans. This could especially help remote veterans dealing with mental health issues who don’t want to travel to VA clinics.

"Nearly 18 veterans commit suicide every day," said, Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.), one of the sponsors of the bill, in a letter announcing the VETS Act. "Each one is a tragedy. By increasing the ease of access to mental health professionals, my hope is that this bill will help veterans struggling with mental health conditions."

Edited by Brooke Neuman
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