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Asked whether outreach to hard-to-reach veterans or convenience for existing veterans was the prime motivation to expand telehealth, Petzel said neither is the primary reason. Telehealth, he said, can provide easier access to healthcare for all veterans and in some cases provide better care than more-traditional methods.
As an example, Petzel used a real-life incident of a veteran receiving psychiatric services in a metropolitan area. To reach his appointment with his therapist, the veteran was required to drive nearly an hour through heavy traffic.
“By the time he got there, he was angry, upset, and exhausted,” Petzel said. “Now he uses telehealth. We’ve interviewed him. He points out the fact that now he’s relaxed, in an environment he’s comfortable in, he’s not upset about the traffic, and he’s getting infinitely — and he used the word infinitely — more out of his therapy sessions.”
Adam Darkins, MD, VA’s chief consultant for telehealth services, confirmed this, noting that many patients are more comfortable in a telehealth encounter, which can feel more private. This can be an advantage in therapy, he noted.
“It’s also designed to keep veterans active in their community,” Darkin noted. “They don’t have to devote half a day to an appointment.”
VA estimates that a patient saves an average of $34.45 in travel costs per consultation when using clinical video telehealth and $38.81 per consultation when using store-and-forward telehealth.
The provider also sees benefits, Petzel said. “Eventually, once people are skilled at it, telehealth is a more efficient use of the specialist’s time.”
An internal review of VA’s telehealth programs ranked patient satisfaction with home telehealth at 86%, with clinical video telehealth at 93%, and with store-and-forward technology at 92%.