VA telehealth efforts cut patient costs

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Home-based telehealth programs help military service members receive better care at lower costs than service members who only receive in-person care, according to figures touted this week by U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs officials.

Between 2009 and 2012, annual healthcare costs for veterans treated via telehealth fell 4 percent one year after starting use of such programs.

Additional figures, presented this week at the HIMSS Government Health IT conference in the District of Columbia by Adam Darkins, chief consultant for telehealth services at the VA, showed that veterans who participated in telehealth programs also had lower hospital admission rates and emergency room visits, FCW reported.

What's more, according to Darkins, in fiscal year 2013, VA-specific telehealth applications to more than 608,000 patients at 151 VA medical centers and 705 community-based outpatient clinics resulted in roughly 1.8 million telehealth episodes of care.

"Telehealth isn't about seeing a provider by video; it's about decision-making," Darkins said, according to Health Populi blogger and health economist Jane Sarasohn-Kahn. "A good decision downstream can make a lot of difference to someone's longevity."

Home telehealth services, according to Darkins, reduced bed days in FY13 by a whopping 59 percent, and cut hospital admissions by 35 percent. Overall, patients treated through home telehealth saved close to $2,000 each in FY13.

Legislation introduced to Congress last fall aims to improve access to telehealth services for active-duty military, retired veterans and their dependents by expanding reimbursement for such care. The bill--the 21st Century Care for Military & Veterans Act--was endorsed by the American Telemedicine Association. In January it was referred to the House Armed Services Committee's Subcommittee on Military Personnel.

In January 2013, the VA awarded 33 grants to improve healthcare services for female veterans, including telehealth programs in rural areas.

To learn more:
- here's the FCW post
- check out Darkins' figures (.pdf)
- read the Health Populi post

Related Articles:
Legislation expands telehealth coverage for military, retired veterans
AAFP panel: Telemedicine can help expand care
VA: 80,000 vets used telehealth in 2012
VA grants for women's health programs expand telehealth efforts

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