VA expands telehealth services with new ‘Anywhere to Anywhere’ initiative

The Department of Veterans Affairs announced a new telehealth initiative on Thursday that pairs regulation changes with a new mobile app to expand healthcare services to the nation’s veterans.

In an event held at the White House, VA Secretary David Shulkin outlined a significant new initiative called “Anywhere to Anywhere VA Health Care,” which allows VA providers to treat veterans anywhere in the country using telehealth technology, no matter where that provider practices.

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VA providers have been barred from providing telehealth services across state lines, an issue that legislators had vowed to change through the VETS Act, a bipartisan bill aimed at relaxing those rules. But Shulkin said the VA is working with the White House’s Office of American Innovation and the Department of Justice to issue a new regulation that allows providers to practice within the scope of their specialty anywhere in the country.

The VA treated more 700,000 patients via telehealth last year, but Shulkin said the move “dramatically expands our current capabilities.”

“That means we're going to be able to use VA providers in cities where there are a lot of doctors, and be able to use those doctors to help our veterans in rural areas where there aren't many healthcare professionals,” he said to President Trump. “And you talked about mental health and suicide prevention; this is one of those areas that we can really use that expertise.”

Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, one of the sponsors of the VETS Act, said she would continue pursuing passage of the bill to "ensure that Secretary Shulkin’s announcement can be strengthened with full legislative authority to help veterans across the country." 

Paired with that impending regulatory change, the VA also unveiled a new mobile application called VA Video Connect, which currently allows veterans to connect with over 300 VA providers at 67 different hospitals and clinics across the country on a smartphone or mobile device. Another new mobile app will allow veterans to make appointments on their smartphones.