What’s Changed In Veterans Health Care? Why VA Virtual Connection Is So Fundamental To Those Who Have Served Their Country

Aug 31, 2020, 3:53 PM
Veterans Health Care...
Photo: VA

This article about veterans health care is presented by the US Department of Veteran’s Affairs, the VA Salt Lake City Health Care System, and American United Federal Credit Union. Please take advantage of your VA health care benefits today at saltlakecity.va.gov.

Imagine a future where you could see a doctor while camping. No driving. No crowded waiting rooms. It would be just the care you need, where and when you need it. 

That Future of Veterans Health Care is Happening Now

Virtual Connect - Vetarans Health Care

Photo VA

As COVID-19 disrupted the nation’s hospitals, providers at the VA Salt Lake City Health Care System are ramping up the use of VA Video Connect (VCC). VA Video Connect is a video conferencing program that allows medical professionals to remotely diagnose their patients and update medical charts.

“This allows staff to see Veterans anytime, anywhere, and removes barriers that Veterans may face when trying to attend an appointment,” said VA TeleMental Health Program Coordinator Elysia Pace. “It allows providers to be more flexible when meeting with the Veteran and helps with facility space shortages.”  

How VA Video Connect is Making Medical Help Easier

Virtual Doctor - Veterans Health Care

Photo: VA

The use of Video Connect also reduced Veteran travel times to in-person appointments. In some cases by hours. But it didn’t just make life easier for Veterans. By staying at home, Veterans limit their exposure to the virus which keeps them safer.

VA Video Connect University

Photo: VA

To get providers up to speed, Pace and others at the medical center created VA Video Connect University. It’s a two-day in-person training course and the VA’s first in the nation. The home base for this operation features 18 state-of-the-art private sound-resistant booths for video conferencing.

“The hope is to become a training model for other VA’s,” Pace said. “The intent is for staff to receive a higher level of understanding and education to integrate VVC into their everyday routines.”

VA Nurse Practitioner Kristin McElwain just completed the course and said she learned how to troubleshoot the platform. It’s a task she wasn’t comfortable with before. But now she can better connect with the Veterans she serves. And it’s a connection she said was limited over the phone.  

“They’re able to see me,” McElwain said. “They’re able to know that I can see them and that I can that I can relate to what they’re doing and see what’s happening with them, and I think that’s reassuring.”

She continued, “You can see their expression. [..] if they’re in pain, grimacing. You can see how easily they’re moving or how much difficulty they’re having with mobility. You can’t get any of that with phone visits, so I think it gives us a whole new dimension.”

About 20 providers have completed VVC University, but Pace said as technology expands, hundreds more will follow, allowing more providers to forge stronger connections with patients.

Ease of Health Care

Photo: Adobe Stock

Video appointments are so convenient, some patients have even attended them from their car or while camping, McElwain said.

For Vietnam Veteran Max Rasmussen, the service is worth its weight in gold. Rasmussen, who lives in Roosevelt, Utah, said a one-way trip to the VA takes three hours ­– longer if there’s traffic. Factor in the appointment and commute home and you’ve lost a whole day, he said. 

“When I’m able to do everything here, it’s worth a million dollars every time.” He said, “I work seven days a week and don’t need to take a day off work.”

What’s Next?

Veterans Health Care bill

Photo: Adobe Stock

For McElwain and others trying to reach rural Veterans amid a pandemic, it’s a move in the right direction. 

“This has been a crazy time and our patients are anxious,” McElwain said. “It’s important for us to try and help them figure out what’s the new normal and maintain some consistency and some calm in this crazy world we’re living in.”

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What’s Changed In Veterans Health Care? Why VA Virtual Connection Is So Fundamental To Those Who Have Served Their Country