A nationwide program launched three years ago to help veterans with travel restrictions or limited access to VA hospitals is unexpectedly paying off for all south-central Pennsylvania vets needing medical care.
COVID-19 was unheard of in 2017 when the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs launched VA Video Connect to let Veterans and their caregivers use computers and internet connected devices to remotely video link to VA health care providers.
But when the novel coronavirus made in-person interactions unsafe this spring, use of the video service exploded, at the Lebanon Veterans Affairs Medical Center and nationwide.
The local VA hospital has announced that Video Connect visits were up 782% between March 1 and June 30. According to a recent press release, “During the 4-month period, over 6,000 telehealth appointments were conducted to help our Veterans stay safe!”
Nearly 2,500 of those visits were described as “mental health video appointments,” followed by nearly 1,000 “primary care video appointments.”
Nationwide, the department reports that Video Connect visits are up 1000% in 2020.
The VA said in its release that “as in-person interactions decreased in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, VA Video Connect supported Veterans’ abilities to continue care and remain safely at home. Usage of video to home services has been increasing since mid-March with peak usage reaching over 29,000 appointments per day nationwide.”
“As we near the three-year anniversary of the launch of VA Video Connect, even during these challenging times, VA has and continues to maintain access to high-quality health care for Veterans,” said Robert W. Callahan, Jr., Director of the Lebanon VA Medical Center. “As the service becomes more popular, VA remains committed to providing a seamless user experience to ensure Veterans have access to care where and when they need it.”
Callahan added that the VA knows that many veterans aren’t computer literate or don’t have reliable access to the internet. “VA is also taking strides to bridge the digital divide for Veterans who lack the technology or broadband internet connectivity required to participate in VA telehealth services,” he said.
“At the national level, VA is working with strategic partners, through the VA Secretary’s Center of Strategic Partnerships, to increase access to the technology that Veterans need to connect with their VA health care team virtually.”
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An earlier version of this article had a reference to a previous name of the department.