The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) says it provided remote care to more than 690,000 veterans during fiscal year 2014.
About 55 percent of those veterans live in rural areas with limited access to VA facilities.
"A brick-and-mortar facility is not the only option for healthcare," VA Secretary Robert A. McDonald said in an announcement. "We are exploring how we can more efficiently and effectively deliver health care services to better serve our veterans and improve their lives. Telehealth is one of those areas we have identified for growth."
The total represents about 12 percent of all the veterans enrolled for healthcare and accounted for more than 2 million telehealth visits. That compares with fiscal year 2013 figures of 608,000 patients treated and roughly 1.8 million telehealth episodes of care.
The VA offers more than 44 clinical specialties including dermatology, eye exams, the Center for Women Veterans, podiatry, and mental health services. Its teleAudiology has grown from 1,016 veterans served during fiscal year 2011 to more than 10,589 in fiscal year 2014.
Its telemedicine efforts figured prominently in the $16.3 billion allocated last summer to overhaul the VA. The bill, which President Obama signed in August, requires that all VA mobile vet centers and mobile medical centers have the capability to provide telemedicine services. It also requires an annual report be sent to Congress outlining the use of telemedicine by such centers.
The VA says military service members receive better care at lower costs through telemedicine than service members who only receive in-person care. Annual healthcare costs for veterans treated via telehealth between 2009 and 2012 fell 4 percent one year after starting use of the programs, VA officials reported at the HIMSS Government Health IT conference in June.
The Army has been using telemedicine since 1992. It announced earlier this year that its programs are evolving from fixed-based access sites to highly mobile programs using cellphones.
To learn more:
- read the announcement