Expanded Telehealth Access Is Crucial for Veterans. Congress Must Act Now To Safeguard Virtual Care Access for All Patients.

Mar 16, 2023

Telehealth is a vital tool used regularly by our nation’s veterans, allowing them to receive safe, easy, and cost-effective treatment for essential care needs. In fact, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) called telehealth “mission-critical to the future direction of VA care to Veterans.”

Expanded access to telehealth through the VA and Tri-Care has helped dramatically improve access to care and health outcomes for veterans, giving them the ability to attend their appointments at home, without the need to find transportation or rearrange their schedule to attend to a traditional in-person appointment. One VA clinic study found that veterans with diabetes who utilized telehealth services saved 78 minutes of travel time each way thanks to the convenience of virtual care. This saved the VA $72.94 in travel costs per patient. 

This convenient access also increases veterans’ appointment attendance rate when compared traditional in-person care. A study from the Atlanta VAMC Endocrinology Telehealth Clinic found that diabetes patients who used telehealth attended 88 percent of scheduled appointments, on average. Another study found that telehealth services resulted in increased psychotherapy encounters, medication management visits, and a more than 18 percent increase in the likelihood of veterans receiving necessary mental health care treatments. The study also found that through virtual care, veterans were less likely to miss opportunities for care due to telehealth, supporting past research that finds telehealth to be a vital bridge in getting patients access to the care they need. Deputy Director for Clinical Services at the VA, Dr. Leonie Hayworth praises telehealth’s increased care access, saying “the ability for us to connect to a Veteran wherever they are, and really whatever the circumstance, allows us to provide care at a time where it could really be needed.”

Telehealth also improves care outcomes for veterans. A collaborative study from Duke University School of Medicine, ADAPT, Central Virginia Veterans Affairs Health Care System, Greenville VA Health Care Center and Brody School of Medicine conducted between December 2018 to January 2020, surveyed 1,128 persistently poor controlled type 2 diabetes (PPDM) patients, and found that with comprehensive telehealth care, hemoglobin A1C levels dropped at a higher rate than those in standard care. Other research has found that among veterans treated for opioid use disorder (OUD), substance use disorder (SUD), and mental health care at the Iowa City VA Health Care System, telehealth integration for SUD treatment resulted in lower levels of treatment discontinuation.

Increased independence and high-quality care delivered through telehealth access allows patients to take control of their care. “I do my vitals every morning, and I never did that before. The program was able to give me direction” says U.S. Marine Corps Veteran, Arturo Santiago.

Telehealth programs continue to drive high levels of veteran satisfaction, with studies reporting two-thirds of patients preferring care, or being impartial to via telehealth compared to in-person care. Further, 100 percent of veteran patients receiving diabetes care said that they would recommend telehealth to other veterans. 

Expanded access to telehealth through the VA and Tri-Care has helped dramatically improve access to care and health outcomes for veterans — providing an important demonstration of how expanded access to telehealth provides critical value for patients.

Veterans and their families who don’t receive health care through the VA — and all patients in every community — should also be able to access the full promise of virtual care and have peace of mind they won’t face a telehealth cliff. That is why Congress must build on positive recent progress and bipartisan momentum by advancing permanent reforms to protect access to telehealth for patients in every community.

Learn more about how Congress can act now to safeguard access to telehealth HERE.