Connecting Homebound Rural Veterans to Virtual Care
The Veterans Affairs (VA) telehealth network was not accessible to rural veterans until now. VA Geriatric Scholar Christy Rothermel from Coatesville VA has taken action to erase this gap.
Rothermel is involved in a multidisciplinary Home Based Primary Care team (HBPC) that brings in-home care to veterans who cannot travel to VA health care facilities. The HBPC aids those with serious health conditions and mobility restrictions by ensuring they receive their care.
As a result of the COVID pandemic, in-home visits were restricted to protect veterans, their families, and VA staff. Thus, virtual health care became imperative to provide veterans with resources. Rothermel explained that she “felt that virtual care could really fill a gap that was created by COVID in terms of face-to-face care.” However, as restrictions become less intensive, in-home visits have begun to resume based on the current COVID-19 guidelines. Even though it is safe to conduct in-home care, many veterans remain hesitant about in-person resources (read more about Telemental Health Care for Veterans). Thus, Rothermel and her colleagues decided to work to improve the quality of VA Video Connect, VA’s secure video conferencing app.
Unfortunately, connecting some veterans to virtual care was more challenging than expected. In late 2020, legislation was drafted to remove gaps in access to telehealth care. The Department of Veterans Affairs Telehealth Strategy Act was introduced to the House of Representatives but has not yet been sent to the Senate. This would assist veterans by connecting them to more virtual resources.
In addition to connection barriers, Rothermel and her team discovered that many veterans had functional, neurological, or medical impairments that made them unable to use a smart device. Nonetheless, the HBPC patients needed a channel to access these virtual appointments. As a result, Rothermel and her team worked with caregivers to provide tools to veterans to help them facilitate virtual visits. They also supplied veterans and caregivers with VA technical support to help them set up the virtual application.
Feedback about the VA Video Connect program has been positive once veterans were taught how to use the resources. Consequently, Rothermel’s HBPC team now features VA Video Connect as a vital part of treatment planning for veterans receiving care. COVID-19 was extremely isolating, so the ability to quickly contact health care providers to veterans has been a tremendous asset in improving care.
As the access to virtual care increases, VA medical centers at risk of closure are even more essential to address any questions or concerns veterans may have. While many veteran-related issues are actively being addressed, barriers to providing veterans with critical care are still present.
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