Per a July 16 inspector general (IG) report, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) saw use of VA Video Connect increase from 79 calls per week to over 1,100 per week at just one of its facilities during the coronavirus pandemic, despite some bandwidth and scheduling issues reported by facility leaders.

To quickly accommodate the surge in demand for telehealth services, VA used its in-house video connect platform, phone calls, and Apple’s FaceTime video call service to provide care. VA leaders that spoke with auditors reported a “huge increase” in virtual care, but still cited challenges with the technical delivery of services.

“Some of the facility leaders who reported using virtual modalities cited challenges to these types of care delivery, including issues with bandwidth, scheduling, and users’ comfort and knowledge about how to operate technology,” the report states.

Earlier this month, VA CIO Jim Gfrerer confirmed to MeriTalk that the agency’s telehealth totals jumped from just a few thousand a day to 30,000 to 35,000 virtual appointments each day during the pandemic. On counseling and mental health services alone, the agency saw a 280 percent increase between February and March.

Overall, the IG applauded VA’s adaptability in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. While the IG said it’s still a bit early to review “lessons learned” during the outbreak, the report is meant to promote a discussion of best practices in the healthcare community.

VA officials said at a June hearing that virtual services are just the beginning of a longer trajectory with more expansion possible after the pandemic abates.

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Katie Malone
Katie Malone
Katie Malone is a MeriTalk Staff Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.