Why The Private Sector Lags VA In Telehealth

Ken Terry | Information Week | August 5, 2013

The VA's focus on efficiency and controlling the costs of treating aging patients have made it a telehealth model. Can the private sector learn from its example?

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has long been ahead of the private sector in health IT. Its VistA electronic health record (EHR) system, for example, was in use throughout the VA's hospitals and ambulatory clinics long before non-VA providers began to adopt EHRs en masse in the past few years. And as recent VA figures show, the department has also left the private sector in the dust in the area of telehealth.

Last year, almost half a million veterans received some of their care remotely, either through virtual visits, home monitoring, or a store and forward system, according to Adam Darkins, MD, who leads VA's telehealth program. Included in that total are roughly 148,000 veterans who participated in remote consults with clinicians and 119,000 veterans whose conditions were monitored at home. Remote monitoring enabled 42,000 patients to stay at home rather than be institutionalized.

Following some pilots that started in the late '90s, VA began rolling out its telehealth program in 2003, and it is has now become an integral part of how the system delivers care, Darkins noted. Besides the benefits to patients, which include better outcomes, more independence, reduced travel time, and less time taken off from work, telehealth also saves VA a significant amount of money. A combination of remote patient monitoring and care coordination, for example, reduced hospital bed days by 25% and admissions by 19%, according to a VA study...