VA announced new strategic partnerships and efforts to expand telehealth services during the Anywhere to Anywhere, Together Summit  Dec. 6 in Washington, D.C. The event brought together an unprecedented gathering of industry, government, and non-profit thought leaders to discuss how telehealth can drive innovation in American health care.

“We are on the cusp of the most trans-formative period in the history of the Department of Veterans Affairs,” declared VA Secretary Robert Wilkie in the event’s opening remarks. “Virtual care is the future of medicine. It is our most powerful emerging tool.”

Increasing access to health care is a vital step to realizing telehealth’s potential. This makes bridging the “digital divide” a primary focus for VA.

Creating New Connections

Nearly one-third of Veterans live in rural areas with limited broadband connection. To further enhance access for Veterans, VA announced several new partnerships aimed at improving connectivity in rural and understaffed areas.

Philips, a longtime VA partner, announced it will equip 10 Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and American Legion posts with telehealth technology so Veterans can receive VA care closer to home.

T-Mobile now offers free VA Video Connect service to Veteran customers. Veterans will be able to connect to appointments on their mobile devices for no extra charge, regardless of their current data plan. The company hopes that removing the cost barrier will encourage Veterans to use the service when they need it most.

Another exciting moment of the day was the announcement of a new partnership between VA and Walmart. The retail giant pledged to dedicate space and technical support to host VA-led telehealth appointments in select stores across the country. The partnership will give rural Veterans unprecedented access to VA telehealth services.

“Ninety percent of Americans live within ten miles of a Walmart. Ninety percent of veterans don’t live within ten miles of a VA medical center,” said Deborah Scher, executive adviser to the Secretary’s Center for Strategic Partnerships. “This totally changes their ability to access care in a way that works for their lives.”

Fostering Innovation

The new partnerships will give VA telehealth services a boost in capacity and reach. But they are just the beginning. The second objective of the conference was to foster collaboration to enhance telehealth services and meet VA’s strategic initiatives. Industry leaders broke into work groups to discuss improving remote exam capabilities, bridging the digital divide, increasing Veteran engagement, and making collaboration easier for rapid innovation. This laid the critical foundation for future discussions in 2019.

Imagining the Future of Telehealth

As the largest provider of telehealth services in the country, VA is committed to continue adapting emerging technology for new care modalities while making it easier and more effective for providers and their patients.

There is perhaps no area where this is more relevant than in mental health. According to Wilkie, tele-mental health could be the first step in breaking down the barriers that prevent some Veterans from realizing the benefits of traditional therapy.

By prioritizing patient experience and convenience, VA hopes to create a new model of care where telehealth is not viewed as a special service, but as an integral part of the care process.

“It’s our mission to provide our patients with the best possible care, to help shape the future of health care, and to make a difference,” said Dr. Neil Evans, chief officer at VA’s Office of Connected Care. “I’m looking forward to the day when telehealth is just health care.”

Sydney Dudley is a junior at the Mathematics and Science High School at Clover Hill in Richmond, VA. Over the past three summers, she has participated in the student volunteer program at the Richmond VA Medical Center. She plans on studying English in college and pursuing an advanced degree in law. (And thanks to David Hodge, lead public affairs specialist.)Community Living Center makes Veterans feel at home
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