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Telemedicine Benefits for Military and Veterans

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Telemedicine for Military Communities

In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, telemedicine is increasingly important and in high demand. Many health programs are temporarily expanding these services, making it easier and safer for people to connect with their healthcare teams.

What is Telemedicine?

Telemedicine is the use of technology to communicate about health, often without having to leave home or visit a healthcare facility. The words telemedicine, telehealth, and virtual medicine are often used interchangeably.

Telemedicine protects patients and healthcare providers by limiting person to person contact. When you can’t meet with your healthcare team in person, telemedicine offers a safe alternative. Limiting in-person healthcare visits also ensures that medical supplies are available to provide care to those directly affected by coronavirus.

Telemedicine has existed for nearly 50 years and began to take shape with the widespread use of the telephone. Some examples of telemedicine include:

  • Secure information sharing allows healthcare providers to share sensitive patient information like lab results, x-ray images, or health records to other members of the healthcare team in a way that protects patient confidentiality.
  • Remote monitoring is a form of telemedicine that allows healthcare providers to monitor health data – such as continuous blood glucose monitoring or cardiac monitoring.
  • Electronic prescriptions can be sent directly to pharmacies. This eliminates the need to worry about losing a paper prescription or messy handwriting.
  • Real-time videoconferencing is perhaps one of the most beneficial forms of telemedicine during the coronavirus pandemic.

Innovative Telemedicine through the VA

While other healthcare programs are currently allowing the use of technologies like FaceTime or Skype during the coronavirus pandemic, the VA has provided secure telehealth services to veterans through VA Video Connect since early 2018. This is a secure videoconferencing app designed specifically to connect veterans to their healthcare providers from a computer or smartphone.

Additional VA Telemedicine Innovations

Annie, an app that sends automated text messages, supports Veterans in playing an active role in their own healthcare. Through automated text messages, Annie empowers Veterans to actively monitor their symptoms during the coronavirus pandemic. The app will then provide advice on contacting a healthcare team or calling the nurse triage line. You must register for this service on the app…share the name of it!

MyHealtheVet is a secure website that allows servicemembers, Veterans, their caregivers, and families to play an active role in their own healthcare. Your MyHealtheVet account gives you access to your health record, allows you to send secure messages to healthcare providers, refill and track prescriptions, and schedule appointments with the VA.

Using the VA appointments tool through your MyHealtheVet, you can request a telehealth appointment or reschedule an existing appointment as a telehealth appointment.

TRICARE Telemedicine Expansions

TRICARE is also encouraging the use of telemedicine through secure videoconferencing. You may need authorization or referral for these services. Covered telemedicine services include:

  • Office visits
  • Preventive health screenings
  • Mental health services

TRICARE has temporarily expanded telemedicine support for family members in the Autism Care Demonstration program. Through secure videoconferencing, parents can get remote, unlimited support guidance services including:

  • Learning applied behavioral analysis techniques
  • Practicing skills with other family members
  • Reviewing caregiver goals

Covered services for qualifying children may include:

  • Physical therapy
  • Occupational therapy
  • Speech and language therapy
  • Psychotherapy
  • Medical care

All of these telemedicine services require secure videoconferencing with audio and video. Phone calls or text messaging are not included in these benefits.

Not All Health Care is Appropriate for Telemedicine

If you experience a life-threatening emergency call 911 or visit the nearest ER. If you are unsure what to do about a symptom, appointment, or have any concerns at all, it is appropriate to contact your healthcare provider.

Tips for Telemedicine with Your Healthcare Provider

According to MyHealtheVet, there are several things you can do to have a successful healthcare visit using VA Video Connect.

Be prepared. Videoconferencing requires visual and auditory capabilities. Will you be able to see and hear your healthcare provider? Will they be able to hear and see you?

  • Use headphones to improve sound quality.
  • Prevent any background noises – Turn your TV and radio off.
  • Find a well-lit place and position your camera so that your healthcare provider can see you clearly. Holding your smartphone may not provide the best image.

Just like if you were visiting a clinic, be sure you have your health questions and medication list ready for the visit.

Telemedicine improves access to care and is a convenient way to receive routine healthcare services. During the coronavirus pandemic telemedicine is a necessity. TRICARE and the VA offer a variety of innovative telemedicine services to veterans and their families.