The Department of Veterans Affairs launched its VA Video Connect telehealth app in July 2017 to increase veterans' access to care. By February 2019, the telehealth app had logged more than 100,000 video visits, according to the VA.
Now the VA is partnering with Verizon to improve access to virtual care. Veterans who are customers of the telecommunications company will now have unlimited access to the video telehealth service.
Veterans will be able to access VA Video Connect, which uses the cameras on computers, smartphones or tablets to let veterans talk and interact with their VA care team over a live, encrypted video stream, anywhere across Verizon’s nationwide 4G LTE network, without incurring data charges, according to a VA press release.
The VA is the largest provider of telehealth services in the country and provided 1 million video telehealth visits in fiscal year 2018, a 19% increase over the prior year.
From October 2017 through September 2018, veterans received care during approximately 2.3 million episodes of telehealth care. About 1 million of those telehealth visits were video telehealth encounters, according to the VA. The other half of VA telehealth encounters involved VA staff monitoring, screening and accessing veterans' data such as vital signs and sleep studies or images sent by other VA staff in another VA clinic, or sent by a veteran or caregiver from home.
More than half, about 582,000, of those video encounters supported veterans located in rural areas, the VA said.
“VA’s telehealth app for streaming live video sessions between patients and health care providers is another testament to our shared journey to fully integrated, seamless access to health care for our Veterans, no matter where they live,” VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said in a statement.
“Regardless of whether they live in city centers or rural areas, veterans should be able to access the VA’s telehealth resources," said Mike Maiorana, senior vice president of public sector at Verizon.
Free telehealth services for members in Ohio, South Dakota
In other telehealth news, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts is offering free medical and behavioral health visits through its Well Connection telehealth platform through Aug. 1 for members dealing with severe weather and flooding in affected areas of Ohio and South Dakota.
The Blues plan is also allowing members in affected areas to refill prescriptions early, and the insurer is waiving referral, authorization and precertification requirements for medical and pharmacy services.
"Members dealing with the aftermath of severe weather shouldn't have to worry about how they'll get the services and medications they need," Andrew Dreyfus, president and CEO of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, said in a statement. "Our hope is that this will make it easier for them to access care when and where they need it, even if they're displaced."