VA's telehealth budget may double, but strategic questions linger

The Department of Veterans Affairs, which already cares for 35,000 patients remotely via home telehealth technologies, would get $163 million for home telehealth programs under the Obama administration's proposed budget for fiscal year 2011. That's more than double the $72 million the VA spent on home telehealth in fiscal 2009.

But, reports Federal Computer Week, the increased spending amounts to a "leap of faith" because there is no overarching federal strategy for telehealth and telemedicine. "It's not that VA has gone too far; rather, other federal agencies possibly have not gone far enough. Federal policy-makers have not yet taken a comprehensive look at this technology. The government's approach has been piecemeal, with various programs initiated for payers, providers and regulators," reporter Alice Lipowicz comments.

Furthermore, Timothy Deal, senior analyst at research firm Pike & Fischer,says that telemedicine comes with risks if not properly planned. "If the transition from legacy services to modern ones disrupts patient care, I expect to see some patient backlash," Deal says. "There will be growing pains, and people need to understand this."

Lipowicz further editorializes: "If telehealth expands dramatically at VA, it should happen within a broader context. The time is ripe for VA, DOD and the Health and Human Services Department to work together on a telehealth strategy."

To learn more:
- read this Federal Computer Week story