West Texas VA Health Care System
Rural Health in the VA
There are currently 3.1 million rural Veterans enrolled in the VA system nationwide representing 36% of the total Veterans enrolled in VA healthcare. The West Texas VA Health Care System (WTVAHCS) serves 23,676 enrolled Veterans, with 43% considered rural or highly rural.
The VHA Office of Rural Health (ORH) has a unique mission in that the office supports programs that improve access to Veterans who live in rural and highly rural areas. The mission of ORH is to improve access and quality of care for enrolled rural and highly rural Veterans by developing evidence-based policies and innovative practices to support the unique needs of enrolled Veterans residing in geographically remote areas.
The Office of Rural Health has six major strategic goals:
1. Improve access and quality of care through the establishment of new access points, by supporting new and ongoing transportation solutions to VA facilities and by supporting initiatives such as the Home Based Primary Care (HBPC) program.
2. Optimize the use of available and emerging technologies such as telemedicine, web-based networking tools, and the use of mobile devices to deliver care to, and monitor the health of, rural and highly rural Veterans.
3. Maximize utilization of existing and emerging studies and analyses to impact care delivered to rural and highly rural Veterans.
4. Improve availability of education and training for VA and non-VA healthcare providers to rural and highly rural Veterans by supporting initiatives such as the Graduate Medical Education Enhancement Initiative for residents, nurse practitioners, and social workers who want specialized training in Rural Health.
5. Enhance existing and implement new strategies to improve collaborations and increase service options for rural and highly rural Veterans such as the recent IHS-VA MOU that will improve health care delivery by sharing programs, improving coordination of care, and increasing efficiency through sharing contracts and purchasing agreements.
6. Develop innovative methods to identify, recruit and retain medical professionals and requisite expertise in rural and highly rural areas.
Because of the rurality of the WTVAHCS catchment area, innovative processes and practices have been implemented to provide the highest quality of care to the Veterans we serve in locations that are convenient to the Veteran. Through the use of money earmarked for Veterans living in rural areas, the WTVAHCS has adopted several new practices to treat Veterans. One such modality is through the use of telehealth.
The WTVAHCS has been providing Tele-health services since 2010 and is excited to offer Video to Home as the newest service available to our Veterans. Video to Home will provide our Veterans better and more convenient access to their healthcare regardless of issues such: as distance, geography, cost, weather, and time away from their families.
Video to Home appointments are now being offered through HBPC. HBPC is a program that was funded through the ORH. By creating a partnership with Telehealth, the WTVAHCS is able to expand the program and offer more care to Veterans that are deemed highly rural. The HBPC program sends providers to the Veterans home to conduct face-to face visits. Not all visits are face- to-face; some can be conducted over video. This allows the providers to care for more patients in a day because driving time is now used for patient care.
Video to Home Tele-health allows the Veteran to see his/her provider from home; it is only necessary for the Veteran to have internet services and a computer. If the Veteran does not have a video camera, the WTVAHCS can provide one. The WTVAHCS is one of the only facilities that offer this service. If a Veteran’s Primary Care Physician finds that he/she is appropriate for this program, a test video call will be set up prior to the first appointment to ensure that the technology and the Veteran’s knowledge of the technology is all in working order. Veterans are in control of the Video to Home appointments by dialing in and disconnecting when the appointment is over. The High Definition Video uses a secure link to the WTVAHCS firewall so the Veteran’s privacy is protected.
Another area of expansion for the WTVAHCS is in the HBPC Program. This program brings primary and some specialty care to the Veterans in their homes eliminating the need to travel great distances.
Some specialty care is also attributed directly to ORH funding. One such program is the addition of Ophthalmology, Audiology, and Physical Therapy to the Abilene Community Based Outpatient Clinic in 2012. Plans are in place to expand these services to the Odessa Community Based Outpatient Clinic, coming in Spring of 2014. The addition of specialty services to Community Based Outpatient Clinics allows Veterans to have this needed care closer to their homes.
For more information on Rural Health Programs in VA, please visit: www.ruralhealth.va.gov/