Bill would OK telehealth use by VA healthcare providers across state lines

A new bill introduced by House lawmakers late last week would allow health professionals working for the Department of Veterans Affairs to practice telemedicine across state borders.

The legislation, The Veterans E-Health & Telemedicine Support Act of 2015, would amend a restriction that currently requires the physician and patient to be at federally owned facility in order for treatment to take place. The legislation allows vets to receive treatment anywhere, including at home or a community center, according to an announcement.

The bill is sponsored by Reps. Glenn Thompson (R-Pa.) and Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) and has 11 co-sponsors from both parties.

"The [bill] will eliminate multiple layers of bureaucracy, allowing our veterans to have greater access to mental and behavioral health services, especially in rural areas," Thompson said in the announcement.

For a VA caregiver to practice across state lines, they would have to be qualified to do so and practice "within the scope of their authorized federal duties," the announcement says.

Telemedicine is a promising tool in helping veterans manage chronic conditions from the comfort of their homes. In a study published in January, researchers from the Veterans Health Administration assessed data from veterans receiving care coordination at home via telehealth and found that through the program, vets saw improved health-related quality of life, which included fewer hospitalizations, ER visits and shorter hospital lengths of stay.

However, the VA has seen its fair share of struggles when it comes to both telemedicine and security of patient data. An audit by the VA's Office of Inspector General found that the agency missed opportunities to enroll patients in its home telehealth program.

In addition, the agency failed its Federal Information Security Management Act Audit for Fiscal Year 2014, the 16th consecutive year it did so. The VA did say that it is taking big steps to tackle is cybersecurity problems.

To learn more:
- read the announcement
- here's the bill

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