T-Mobile plans to provide 70,000 lines of wireless service to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the company announced on Monday. The goal is to make sure every VA location has a reliable connection so they can provide telehealth services to veterans.
"Because veterans drive an average of 25 to 50 miles for healthcare visits today, VA, which operates the largest integrated healthcare system in the country, is working to make healthcare providers more accessible to patients with telehealth services," the company said in a release.
Financially, the deal is part of the U.S. Navy's Spiral 3 Wireless and Telecommunications Services contract, which began Oct. 30, 2017. The contract is worth $993.5 million over five years, though obviously not all of this will go toward the VA connections.
The VA serves over 9 million veterans a year through 1,243 healthcare facilities, including 172 medical centers and 1,062 outpatient clinics. The agency said connecting all those locations will go a long way toward making healthcare even more accessible for veterans who don't live near one of those facilities.
“Deploying this type of service across all of our locations not only connects VHA staff with the people and data they need, it makes them more accessible to our veterans as well,” said Steven Lieberman, M.D., executive in charge at the Veterans Health Administration, in the release. “Whether it’s at a medical center, a community clinic or via the VA Video Connect telemedicine platform, our ongoing goal is to improve patient outcomes by reaching veterans wherever they are.”
The VA took a major step toward telehealth services earlier this year when it finalized a rule to allow providers to treat patients across state lines. The policy was a long-awaited change for patients in rural states such as Wyoming where nearly every patient crosses state lines to see a doctor.
The rule came shortly after the administration launched its Anywhere-to-Anywhere initiative designed to give veterans access to telehealth services on their mobile device. The health system plans to double the size of a program that has loaned out thousands of iPads to veterans, providing necessary connectivity for telehealth services.
The addition of T-Mobile's 70,000 lines will now amplify the technical capabilities of the agency. It also makes the company the VA's primary carrier.
“I can’t think of a greater honor than to help VA expand access to exceptional healthcare for the men and women who have served our country,” T-Mobile CEO John Legere said in the release. “I’m incredibly proud to provide the wireless network, devices and support to help VA employees engage with veterans while expanding telehealth and other innovative services.”