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HHS, VA Announce Joint Rural Health IT Initiative

September 13, 2012
by Gabriel Perna
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Recently, Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Secretary of Veterans Affairs (VA) Eric K. Shinseki announced a joint effort between the two agencies to expand healthcare delivery for veterans living in rural areas through grants that aim to improve access and coordination of care through telehealth and health information exchange.

The agreement between the two agencies promotes collaboration between VA facilities and private hospitals and clinics, and is supported by $983,100 in grants. The three states with the highest density of veteran residents—Virginia, Montana and Alaska—will each receive approximately $300,000 to implement or upgrade telehealth capabilities for veterans who must otherwise travel long distances to access medical, mental and behavioral healthcare. 

“The Obama administration is committed to doing all that we can to provide rural veterans the care they need closer to home,” Secretary Sebelius said in a statement.  “As more combat veterans return home, HHS and VA are partnering to provide vital health care and treatment to reduce the distance some veterans have to travel.” 

According to HHS, grants will be used for telehealth equipment and to develop EHRs that are compatible with the VA’s Veterans Health Information Systems and Technology Architecture (VISTA) system. The grants, HHS says, are part of a pilot program to spur collaborative telehealth networks and virtual linkages among rural health providers and the VA to help meet the needs of rural veterans. The HHS Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC) is working to implement health information exchange among VA hospitals and rural hospitals to.

“This is an outstanding example of a partnership that expands access to care and improves quality of life for rural veterans,” Secretary Shinseki said in a statement. “Working with partners like HHS, VA will continue to increase the reach of our services beyond our 152 major medical centers to ensure veterans receive the care they have earned and deserve.”

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