Apr 28 2020

VA Expands Telehealth Services with New Device Purchases

The department is boosting telemedicine capabilities for veterans through the purchase of iPad devices and other computing equipment.

Like other federal agencies, the Department of Veterans Affairs has been expanding its use of telework in the past month as workers have been forced to work remotely. 

The VA is also fulfilling its mission to serve veterans by expanding its use of telemedicine. The agency is doing so by investing in laptops, iPad devices and other equipment. 

The hardware investment came after the VA made a $1.2 billion request for the department’s “Information Technology Systems account” to support the “quick shift” to telehealth and social distance working, according to an Office of Management and Budget memo sent out in March. The VA said the shift to telework would require investment in IT resources “to support increased use of simultaneous telehealth appointments and upgrade associated bandwidth for employees and healthcare providers.” 

According to VA spokesperson Christina Noel, the agency is “maximizing telework when possible, while ensuring it has adequate staff onsite at its facilities in order to meet the daily clinical care needs of veterans.” 

Of note, Noel tells FedTech, “in addition to clinical staff, some administrative staff are also required onsite in order to meet clinical care requirements.”

The Veterans Affairs Department uses telehealth services to bring care to veterans who are in remote locations.

The VA obtained funding to purchase 225,000 laptops to support telework and telehealth initiatives from the supplemental appropriation, according to the spokesperson. “We already purchased 157,000 of these devices and plan to purchase the remaining devices this week,” Noel said on April 22. 

Additionally, the VA has procured more than 19,000 iPad devices to support telehealth, with 3,423 of them being used in support of the agency’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, according to Noel. 

VA, IHS Boost Their Telehealth Services

According to FedScoop, the VA has “also reduced the paperwork needed to be qualified to telework for some regions.” Under the recently passed CARES Act, the VA “has been granted authority to enter into free or reduced-price telecommunications contracts to reach rural veterans for mental health services,” FedScoop reports. 

“Since the President signed the CARES Act, VA has been moving quickly to implement the President’s intent to hire new staff, take care of homeless Veterans, use our cutting-edge telehealth technology to keep appointments, help state-run Veterans homes,” VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said in a statement.

Meanwhile, the Indian Health Service, part of the Department of Health and Human Services, said earlier this month that it has completed pilot projects with Cisco Systems’ “encrypted teleconference services in Oklahoma City and around Navajo territory,” FedScoop reports. The IHS is expanding training on the system.

“The current COVID-19 pandemic reminds us how important it is to be able to reach your healthcare team,” Rear Adm. Michael D. Weahkee, IHS principal deputy director, said in a news release. “Telehealth will further protect our patients and employees by expanding services and increasing access to care, while doing our part to help stop the spread of COVID-19.”

Photo Courtesy of the Department of Veterans Affairs