At 3,800,000 square miles, the United States is big enough to cover half the moon’s surface. America’s sprawling geography, temperate climate and inviting topography have made it possible for the population to spread into all sorts of plains, nooks and crannies rather than cluster in a few habitable pockets. That distribution – a boon to agricultural, industrial, and cultural diversity – has presented a peculiar challenge to healthcare: How do we deliver high quality care to more people in more places, and do it at lower cost?
The challenge is especially acute for America’s largest integrated health care system, the Veterans Health Administration (VA), which serves nine million Veterans each year at more than 1,200 health care facilities. The VA has long been a pioneer in leveraging technology to provide high-quality, patient-centered health care to Veterans. Innovative telehealth solutions are helping the VA improve the quality of care for the nearly five million Veterans who live in rural communities. Provider shortages, long distances to health care facilities and few transportation options often hinder Veterans from obtaining timely, quality care for those who live in rural communities.
That’s why an estimated 45 percent of the VA’s 2.1 million annual telehealth encounters are with rural patients. Rural Veterans use telehealth to access high-quality clinical care from their homes or from clinical locations close to where they live. Telehealth visits between a rural Veteran and a VA primary care physician or specialists have increased 352 percent in the last seven years.