What has been the world’s largest direct healthcare delivery system is now the world’s largest user of telemedicine.  Have you guessed who it is?

Kudos if you answered the Veterans Administration.  In a report submitted to the President and Congress by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki says telemedicine-based clinical services grew by 66% in the last two years.  The VA’s telemedicine program has now effectively treated six million patients.

The VA has 146 medical centers and 531 CBOCs (Community-based Outpatient Clinics).  In 2012, the VA expanded its clinic-based telehealth services by 42% and achieved 39% expansion with more than 76,000 veterans receiving clinical video telemental health.  New services now offered include teledermatology, telepathology, and audiology clinic support.

The VA has started keeping performance measures that seem to indicate its telemedicine program is helping speed up the delivery of care, although telemedicine isn’t specifically cited as the reason for meeting the target goals.  For example, 90% of new primary care and new specialty care appointments are completed within 14 days of the desired date for the appointment.  Similar harmony is evident in established appointments completed within 14 days of the desired date for the appointment - 95% for primary care and 96% for specialty care.  The VA says that during 2012 there was a 61% increase in the number of enrolled veterans participating in telehealth which involves home telehealth monitoring systems and “store-and-foward” telehealth services.

It is our pleasure here at GlobalMed to be involved with making the VA’s telemedicine program such a success.  We’re looking forward to a research paper that will present findings of a study that compares telehealth team care to standard care at CBOCs, perhaps by the end of March 2013.

Here are some interesting facts about the population of our valued veterans:

As of September 2012, the median age of all living veterans was 62 years.  A median is somewhat different than an average.  62 years is the centerpoint.  Half of the 21.8 million living veterans are older than 62 and half are younger.

Nine percent of all living veterans are women, and by 2021 that percentage is expected to increase 45% because of the expanded role of women in the Armed Forces.

Seventy-four percent of America’s veterans served during at least one wartime period, with Vietnam Era veterans accounting for the largest segment of the veteran population.  Nearly four of every five female veterans served during the post-Vietnam Era, compared to 40% of men.

As of now, we have nearly a million and a half living veterans of World War II, many of whom are now 85+.  Another 2.1 million who fought in the Korean War.   One in every four veterans lives in California, Texas or Florida.  Similar to the growing numbers of elderly in the general population, the number of veterans who are 65 and older and enrolled in the VA’s healthcare system will rise 22% by 2021 to more than 4.2 million.

More than 294,000 people work for the Department of Veterans Affairs; nearly 90% of them support the healthcare system.

In 2012, the VA will spend about $138 billion.  All but three percent of that amount will go directly to veterans in the form of monthly payments of benefits or for direct services such as medical care.