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VA Declares Lofty Telemental Health Consultation Goal

June 20, 2012
by Gabriel Perna
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The Department of Veterans Affairs has set a goal to conduct more than 200,000 clinic-based telemental health consultations for mental health specialties in the fiscal year 2012, in what the department calls is an effort to increase Veterans’ access to mental healthcare, Last month, the VA announced Veterans would no longer be required a co-pay when they receive care in their homes from VA health professionals using video conferencing.

“We are leveraging technology to reduce the distance they have to travel, increase the flexibility of the system they use, and improve their overall quality of life. We are expanding the reach of our mental health services beyond our major medical centers and treating Veterans closer to their homes,” Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki said in a statement. “Telemental health provides Veterans quicker and more efficient access to the types of care they seek.”

According to the VA, the clinic-based telehealth program involves the more than 800 VA community-based outpatient clinics (CBOCs) where many Veterans receive primary care. If no mental healthcare provider is available, video teleconferencing technology is used to connect the Veteran to a provider within VA’s nationwide system of care.  As a result, the VA says, Veterans can arrange appointments at times more in synch with their schedules.

Already since the start of the Telemental Health Program in May 2011, the VA has completed over 550,000 patient encounters. In Fiscal Year 2011 alone, more than 140,000 encounters were conducted with 55,000 Veterans via CBOCs, where providers at 150 hospitals delivered care to Veterans at more than 500 clinics. When fully implemented, the expansion will aim to provide a potential capacity of 1.2 million consultations annually.

Along with this program, the Veterans Health Administration’s National Telemental Health Center in West Haven, Conn., has developed new programs that delivered 1,000 specialized patient encounters from mental health experts at multiple VA sites to Veterans throughout the nation. These include over 100 compensation and pension exams, 700 clinical encounters to over 165 Veterans enrolled in behavioral pain treatment programs, and 200 clinical-video and telephone encounters to over 70 Veterans enrolled in a bipolar disorder treatment program.

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