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Telehealth: Changing Comprehensive Care For Our Veterans

Eighty-two years ago, Veterans Day became a national holiday. It originated as “Armistice Day” on November 11, 1919, the first anniversary of the end of World War I. 

On Veterans Day, we officially honor all United States veterans who serve and have served this great country of ours to ensure we enjoy the freedom on which America was founded. This holiday commemorates U.S. veterans of all wars along with those who serve during peacetime. Epion Health would like to thank all veterans for their service. 

Complex Challenges to Care 

The U.S. is home to approximately 18 million U.S. veterans. While each of them has made sacrifices for our country, many encounter multiple challenges in accessing comprehensive healthcare. Obstacles include distance to a healthcare facility, low income and long wait times. 

Rural residents account for roughly one‐quarter of the U.S. veteran population, and about 40 percent of these individuals, including a majority of Vietnam-era veterans, live outside a 50-mile radius of Veterans Health Administration (VHA) medical centers. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the U.S. population of rural veterans is older (56 percent are over 65), poorer (52 percent earn less than $35,000 per year) and sicker (a greater number of comorbidities) than their urban counterparts. 

The average time between emergency room arrival and admission is longer at almost 75 percent of hospitals within the VA system than that of other hospitals. Even some veterans residing in urban areas have to wait more than 30 days to receive care from the VA. 

Some rural veterans face homelessness and substance use disorder, both of which can exacerbate their health issues. Others are unaware of the benefits, services and facilities available to them through the VA. 

The Prevalence of PTSD 

Veterans’ lack of access to care goes beyond physical health. Only about half of all veterans who need mental health care ever receive it due to barriers such as provider shortcomings, access problems and personal and social attitudes. 

This number is especially troubling because, in a given year, roughly 11-20 percent of veterans who served in Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), while approximately 12 out of every 100 Gulf War/Desert Storm veterans do. An estimated 30 percent of veterans of the Vietnam War also have experienced PTSD in their lifetime. The National Council for Behavioral Health notes that approximately 22 veterans each day die by suicide. 

Deploying Digital Health for Veterans 

Digital health technologies are increasingly being utilized to treat various populations within the U.S., including veterans. Telehealth, which uses technologies like remote patient monitoring, video conferencing and mHealth (mobile health) to provide healthcare services to patients, enables veterans, especially those living in rural areas, to receive a higher quality of care. It’s convenient, minimizes the spread of infectious diseases (i.e., COVID-19) and can reduce unnecessary emergency department (ED) visits. 

Telehealth also promotes continuity of care for veterans through real-time communication, responsive concern and reduced admissions. For healthcare providers, it can reduce patient no-show rates, which cost the healthcare industry $150 billion annually. Physician practices and health systems consistently report lower no-show rates with telehealth in behavioral care, where telehealth removes the stigma of visiting a behavioral clinic. 

The percentage of veterans who accessed care via telehealth increased 17 percent from 2018-2019, and that number has skyrocketed during the COVID-19 pandemic. High satisfaction scores have been reported by veterans who have used the technology, including 92 percent for clinical video telehealth (CVT), 88 percent for home telehealth and 94 percent for store and forward telehealth (SFT). 

For veterans dealing with mental health issues, telepsychiatry, which combines the benefits of telehealth with the practice of psychiatry, has been shown to decrease psychiatric hospitalizations by 31 percent, increase access to care and reduce travel burdens and symptoms of PTSD. In a study that examined veterans’ attitudes about the potential use of telepsychiatry for mental health treatment in routine clinical settings, one-third of participants indicated a clear preference for telepsychiatry compared to in-person mental health visits.  

Find out how Epion Telehealth eliminates barriers to connect and engage patients, including veterans, across all devices — desktop, tablet and smartphone — making routine visits easy, convenient and accessible while improving access and outcomes.