By James P. Gfrerer, chief information officer, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
An established leader in telehealth technology, VA has been using real-time virtual video medical appointments since 2002 to connect veterans with VA clinicians for the care they need, when they need it. VA’s telehealth program has been an essential element in serving our nation’s veterans, making it easier for them to receive care and convey vital information to their medical providers.
Today, the expansion of VA telehealth and telemedicine technologies is a key element of VA’s COVID-19 response efforts. VA Video Connect virtual appointments and other telehealth technologies are playing an important role in flattening the pandemic growth curve by providing patients quick, easy, and effective access to healthcare professionals.
VA Video Connect allows VA to treat non-COVID-19 patients (and those experiencing mild symptoms) in the comfort of their own home while limiting unnecessary in-person exposure and keeping beds open in VA medical centers for those most in need.
Nationwide, OIT is deploying more than 50,000 telehealth kits—each containing a laptop, docking station, mouse, keyboard, webcam, headset, and two monitors—to enable VHA clinicians to connect remotely with patients. VA’s strong foundational investments ivn telehealth over the past decade positioned OIT to rapidly expand the delivery of virtual care to support eterans during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since the outbreak, OIT has supported a 1,500% surge in veteran video visits outside of a VA facility—from approximately 41k total monthly video visits in January to more than 659,000 in July. To stay ahead of the growing demand, OIT tripled telehealth visit concurrent call capacity from 3k in February to more than 9k.
By upgrading the VA Video Connect system’s on-premises hardware and expanding the video conferencing system to the cloud, the Department further increased this capacity to handle more than 15k concurrent sessions (nearly five times the pre-COVID capacity). In July alone, OIT’s expanded VA Video Connect capacity helped more than 371,000 unique veteran patients limit exposure to and spread of COVID-19.
This is 12.5 times the number of veterans who used VA Video Connect in February (29,706).
Since January 2020, the expanded VA Video Connect system has helped veterans conduct more than 2.8 million telehealth appointments from their own homes or another non-VA site. OIT continues to grow telehealth support to meet VHA’s anticipated total telehealth visits to home for fiscal year (FY) 2020—3.8 million (compared to just under 295,000 visits in FY2019).