VA working with Apple to broaden telehealth access for veterans

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs says it’s collaborating with Apple to boost the availability of telehealth services for veterans across the U.S.

The program connects qualifying veterans with iPads, helping 50,000 of them more easily take part in telehealth services and access other VA virtual healthcare services.

The new iPad initiative has its roots in the VA’s Connected Tablet program, which launched in 2016 and, research shows, has created a more satisfying patient experience and made veterans less likely to miss appointments.

A JAMIA Open study published in 2019 showed it successfully reaching veterans in rural areas and helping patients with mental health conditions; another, published by Psychiatric Services, found the tablets helped lead to improved clinical efficiency.

In order to standardize the devices used by the program and give its beneficiaries more consistent experience, the VA has enlisted Apple, saying that the iPads’ streamlined UX – and the privacy and security made possible through Apple’s integrated hardware and software platform – make them a good choice for secure virtual care.

Through the VA’s Center for Strategic Partnerships, the agency is working with Apple to enhance the platform and optimize telehealth experience for veterans and their caregivers, according to the VA – which notes that the devices will also give patients the ability to view and download their own medical data using the Health Records app.

The iPad offers “convenience and flexibility when attending my VA appointments,” said U.S. Air Force Veteran Fiona Garcia, in a statement. “I’ve been able to receive VA care when and where I need it most. The technology also allows me to stay connected with my doctors when I am not near a Wi-Fi connection or near the VA medical center.”

The VA has been putting major emphasis and investing big resources on its telemedicine and virtual care offerings in recent years, and embarking on many private-sector partnerships.

For instance, the agency has teamed with Verizon to offer veterans who are customers gain wider access to the VA Video Connect telehealth app.

More recently, it awarded a major long-term contract to Philips to build out the VA’s tele-critical care infrastructure. The 10-year agreement, which could total as much as $100 million, will see Philips innovating the VA’s telehealth technology and services – including tele-ICU, remote patient monitoring, sleep monitors and more.

Dr. Neil C. Evans, chief officer in the VA’s Office Of Connected Care, spoke with Healthcare IT News earlier this year.

“In FY19, VA provided more than 2.6 million telehealth episodes of care, such as a video appointment or a store and forward telehealth exchange, to more than 900,000 veterans,” he said. “For example, more than 490,000 veterans utilized VA’s video telehealth capabilities last year, and 50 percent of those veterans lived in rural communities.

“As part of VA’s EHR modernization efforts, efforts are underway to deeply integrate and build VA’s connected care technologies directly into the new record, in support of a better veteran and provider experience and further expansion of virtual care delivery,” said Evans.

“VA will continue working diligently to provide Veterans with the tools and resources necessary to access quality health care when and where they need it,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “VA’s partnership with Apple is an integral step in helping to bridge the digital divide for Veterans everywhere. This is particularly critical during the COVID-19 public health emergency, when telehealth is being leveraged to protect the safety and well-being of both our Veterans and clinicians.”

Twitter: @MikeMiliardHITN
Email the writer: [email protected]

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