Telehealth and online medical appointments will remain a key part of veterans health care even after the pandemic disappears, the Veterans Affairs secretary promised on Wednesday.
But department officials may need Congress’ help to ensure that.
VA Secretary Denis McDonough made an an appearance before the Senate Appropriations Committee. He noted that online video appointments between department physicians and patients are about 18 times higher now than spring 2020.
“There were almost 230,000 visits at the end of February this year,” he said. “Nearly 2 million vets have had one or more episodes of video care. That tells us that there’s massive demand.”
But McDonough noted there has been reluctance to embrace the change. He said he will work to address the issue among some staffers accustomed to in-person meetings.
“We’re institutionalizing that,” he said. “We want to maintain it, because it’s ease of access for vets who don’t need to be seen in person.
“There’s going to continue to need to be things that are done in person, but I think as a system we recognize the huge efficiency gains and and huge satisfaction gains which come from vets spending less time traveling to our facilities while still getting good care.”
Department health officials have predicted a sharp rise in demand for health care services in coming months. It seems that many veterans will catch up on appointments missed because of coronavirus closures and self-isolation. Mental health care appointments in particular are expected to be in demand, and remain a challenge for Veterans Health Administration leaders to keep up with.
But committee members expressed concerns that the return to normal operations may also mean rolling back those new offerings, thereby limiting veterans health care options.