Ahead of the Curve: Helping the VA Health Care System Deliver Telehealth Services for Veterans

The COVID‐19 pandemic has profoundly impacted access to health care for millions of Americans. This is especially true in rural communities, where residents are generally older and already experience barriers to care due to affordability and proximity issues.

As the United States scrambles to deliver health care during this public health crisis, telehealth has become an increasingly important tactic across health care systems. Telehealth is the remote diagnosis and treatment of patients via communication tools such as videoconferencing. Through this health care model, patients can make secure video calls to their doctor to discuss changes to their medication or talk through symptoms that require immediate attention. Current projections estimate there could be one billion telehealth appointments conducted in 2020 – an astounding 2,600% increase compared to pre‐COVID projections.

Fortunately, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is well-prepared for this shift. In its commitment to providing Veterans access to specialized medical and mental health care, the VA was an early adopter of telehealth. Since 2003, VA Telehealth Services has been providing care to Veterans from their homes or local communities through the VA Office of Connected Care (OCC). As a result of these telehealth initiatives – including a web‐based patient record system (My HealtheVet) and several mobile platforms – the VA is currently the largest telehealth provider in the United States.

The Hatcher Group is proud to have played a role to make certain that as many Veterans as possible are aware of their telehealth options through the VA, know how to access them, and receive the care they need from trained providers. Through our multimedia and communications support (as a subcontractor for the OCC), Hatcher has developed both traditional and motion graphic videos to highlight the benefits of telehealth services for patients, caregivers, and care teams.

As the production manager at The Hatcher Group and the wife and daughter of Marine and Navy Veterans, the video we created profiling Veteran Jim Doray and his experience with telehealth through the VA will forever hold a special place in my heart. Ret. Navy Veteran Jim Doray, and his wife Paulina, live in Julian, California, more than 50 miles from the nearest VA medical center. Following a 2013 spinal cord injury and many surgeries, Jim required frequent medical appointments and prescription refills, both of which required day-long journeys. The couple struggled both physically and emotionally, until they were introduced to VA telehealth. As highlighted in the Hatcher-produced video, Jim and Paulina are now “living their dream” thanks to this health care system. Through the dissemination of this video, we hope more Veterans, like Jim, will get the care they need, where they need it.

Hatcher also developed a dynamic motion graphic video that walks users through My HealtheVet, the VA’s web-based personal health record platform for Veterans. With My HealtheVet, Veterans can refill and track prescriptions, send secure messages to their care team, request appointments, download personal health records, and access other tools to help them stay healthy.

If just one Veteran’s life is made healthier and easier through our work to raise awareness of the VA’s telehealth services, our efforts will have been worth it. With no immediate end in sight for the COVID-19 pandemic, the telehealth resources offered by the OCC can serve as a model for the rest of the nation on how to reach citizens with quality health care – through readily available technology – regardless of where they live.

By Cate Watson, Production Manager