Audit Finds VA Missed Chances To Increase Telehealth Enrollment

March 11, 2015 in News

The Veterans Health Administration missed opportunities to expand enrollment in a telehealth program that could “have potentially delayed the need for long-term institutional care for approximately 59,000 additional veterans in [fiscal year] 2013,” according to a Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General audit, FierceHealthIT reports (Dvorak, FierceHealthIT, 3/10).

According to the audit, VHA’s Home Telehealth Program has three categories, which vary based on the complexity of veterans’ health care needs:

  • Chronic care management;
  • Health promotion/disease prevention; and
  • Non-institutional care.

The audit found that VHA increased the overall number of veterans enrolled in the Home Telehealth Program from about 37,200 beneficiaries in FY 2009 to about 80,200 beneficiaries in FY 2013, a jump of about 115% (VA OIG audit, 3/9). Specifically:

  • The number of chronic care management beneficiaries enrolled increased by 51% over the time period;
  • The number of health promotion/disease prevention beneficiaries enrolled increased by 37%; and
  • The number of non-institutional care patients enrolled decreased by 4%.

The decrease in non-institutional care participants came despite such patients demonstrating some of the best outcomes from the telehealth program, including reductions in bed days of care and hospital admissions, according to the audit. Researchers said the decline was the result of VHA changing its enrollment focus from non-institutional care patients to more general enrollment (FierceHealthIT, 3/10).

VA OIG recommended that the VA interim under secretary for health implement strategies to identify demand for non-institutional care patients and create specific performance metrics to promote the enrollment of such beneficiaries in the Home Telehealth Program (VA OIG audit, 3/9).

VA Apps Downloaded More Than 300K Times

In related news, VA health and wellness applications have been downloaded by more than 300,000 users since they were released, according to department officials, the Washington Post‘s “On I.T.” reports (Jayakumar, “On I.T.,” Washington Post, 3/8).

VA last year launched an app store for veterans and their family members as an extension of the department’s family caregiver pilot and also distributed more than 10,000 tablets to VA providers across the U.S. The store initially included 10 apps and now offers 17. However, some of the apps are only functional on desktop computers and are not yet enabled for mobile devices (Comstock, MobiHealthNews, 3/10).

In addition, many of the current apps are not integrated with VA’s electronic health record database, according to “On I.T.” Instead, they are meant to be an initial resource for veterans looking for general medical advice.

VA National Director of Mobile Health Julia Hoffman said the feedback on mental health-focused apps has been positive. She said that the percentage of veterans who said they were willing to be referred to mental health counselors increased among veterans that used the apps.

According to VHA’s Office of Connected Health Co-Director Neil Evans, VA expects to release three new apps in 2015 that will provide users with varying levels of access to their EHRs:

  • Mobile Blue Button;
  • Launchpad; and
  • Summary of Care.

In addition, Evans said the myVAHealth application, which currently is under development, will allow veterans to upload medical information to their EHRs to be accessed by their providers. Evans said VA plans to release a test version of the app this year (“On I.T.,” Washington Post, 3/8).

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