NTCA Joins U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Telehealth Summit

By Tamber Ray, Regulatory Counsel, NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association

December 12, 2018

On Thursday, December 6, 2018, NTCA staff joined officials from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for a telehealth summit. The meeting was intended to demonstrate new methods of using telehealth and to develop ideas for expanding telehealth to more users and locations.

Veterans and caregivers discussed their experiences with telehealth and the profound difference it makes in their ability to receive ongoing care. One user explained that since VA patients can use telehealth technology to meet with doctors across state lines, veterans can now travel throughout the country while still receiving continuing care from the same doctor who treats them when they are at home. Other participants commented that for some health issues, such as weight loss, in-person doctors’ visits do little to help, and may even discourage, patients. In the case of patients attempting to lose weight, not only does it take longer to drive to an appointment than the actual time spent with the doctor, but stepping on a scale at the doctor’s office and being reminded of the need to eat properly and exercise provides little motivation to the patient. By contrast, patients who use social media or some other form of virtually connecting with family/friends/classmates who are also attempting to lose weight are able to encourage and motivate one another while sharing the same goal.

NTCA joined VA officials, veterans and medical professionals to tackle concerns about the number of individuals without access to telehealth services due to a lack of broadband or the cost of a broadband connection and/or computer. During the summit, participants suggested potential ways to expand access and decrease costs. Suggestions included: (1) making participation in the VA’s low-income program an automatic qualifier for Lifeline eligibility; (2) creating more community telehealth sites such as the Virtual Living Room/VALOR; (3) having the ability to check out telehealth equipment/devices at local libraries; and (4) supporting community-based equipment recycling programs that would permit individuals to donate computers, phones and other electronic devices they no longer use so that these items could be given to veterans.

For additional information, please see:

ConnectHome (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development initiative to provide public housing residents with free or reduced broadband internet access, devices and digital literacy training): https://connecthomeusa.org/

Atlas Health Foundation (working to pair veterans in rural areas with health care training and jobs): https://www.atlashealthfoundation.org/our-work/rural-veterans-rural-health-services-employment-program-demonstration/)