VA missed opportunities to enroll patients in telehealth program

Non-Institutional Care Patients had some of the best outcomes through the Veterans Health Administration's Home Telehealth Program; however, a recent audit found that the agency missed opportunities to expand enrollment for those patients.

The purpose of the program, according to the audit by the Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General, is to improve access to care for the nation's veterans while reducing costs. The OIG says because the VA missed enrollment opportunities for those patients, it could "have potentially delayed the need for long-term institutional care for approximately 59,000 additional veterans in FY 2013."

Through the telehealth program, the VA did increase the number of patients overall, according to the report. That number increased by about 115 percent, from a little over 37,200 patients to about 80,200 patients. However, the majority of them were chronic care management and health promotion/disease prevention patients, whom the OIG said would need less intervention from a primary care provider.

NIC patients show some of the best outcomes, OIG says, including reduced inpatient admissions and bed days of care.

CCM patients served grew by 51 percent and HPDP patients served grew by 37 percent, while the number of NIC patients served fell by 4 percent.

The drop in NIC patients occurred because the VHA switched its focus to looking at all patients enrolled, instead of focusing on increasing enrollment for NIC patients, the report states.

In its recommendations following the findings, the OIG said the Interim Under Secretary for Health should "implement mechanisms to identify demand for NIC patients and develop specific performance measures to promote enrollment of NIC patients."

Problems persist for the VA when it comes to its health IT programs. An OIG audit released last week revealed that the VA's Chief Business Office violated the law by misusing $92.5 million for a health IT project. In addition, the agency has received criticism over its IT security efforts. In November, a Government Accountability Office report criticized the VA for not doing enough to address previous vulnerabilities. The report said the VA didn't fix network vulnerabilities more than a year after they were made public.

To learn more:
- read the audit summary
- check out the audit (.pdf)