For the past two plus years, the COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on us all. From lost loved ones to the economic hardships that many Americans continue to face today, it hasn’t been an easy time. There have, however, been some breakthroughs that have occurred during the pandemic that we must be careful not to leave behind.
It’s no surprise that many of the most valuable advances have occurred in health. For the past two years, health and health care have been at the center of our collective consciousness. Thanks to this renewed interest, the expansion of new health technologies has occurred out of necessity as frontline workers and healthcare professionals develop innovative solutions to the new risks posed by the virus.
Telehealth was one of the innovations that gained traction through COVID-19 when social distancing was paramount. Telehealth-based health programs allow physicians and specialists to see and care for their patients virtually, allowing patients to receive high levels of care remotely from anywhere in the country.
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The convenience and accessibility of telehealth has led to its continued importance even as social distancing becomes less of a concern. Some experts estimate that the use of telehealth is now almost 40 times higher than it was at the start of the pandemic, and a recent study found that the use of this service has increased by more than 7,000% in the first year of the pandemic alone.
The expansion of telehealth in the medical community promises to dramatically increase the accessibility of care for many patients. One group that will benefit immensely is our country’s veterans, many of whom bear physical and mental wounds from their service. Here in Rhode Island, 20% of our veterans have a service-related disability, making access to adequate health care an absolute necessity.
Unfortunately, many veterans face a lack of practical medical care. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, almost a quarter of our military veterans live in rural communities. And sadly, many of these communities face disproportionate barriers to adequate medical treatment due to a lack of facilities, resources and specialists.
Telehealth addresses many of the geographic challenges these rural communities face by providing access to primary care and mental health support remotely, as well as helpful services such as nutritional counseling and trained social workers. As a result, more lawmakers are striving to create and expand solutions that provide telehealth services to former military personnel living in remote and underserved communities.
An excellent example of such solutions is the program for access to telehealth through local stations (ATLAS). This program, which was created through a partnership with the Department of Veterans Affairs, Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Legion and Philips, allows veterans to visit convenient telehealth stations to receive exams and treatments without traveling significant distances to the nearest hospital or clinic. This technology is especially beneficial for veterans who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or traumatic brain injury (TBI) and who may find traveling to large urban areas to seek care overwhelming.
As technology continues to develop, we must use it to help those who need it most and deserve it the most. By investing in smart telehealth programs, even as we leave the pandemic behind us, we can help improve healthcare for veterans. I know Senator Jack Reed, a veteran himself, understands what it means to serve, and I hope he and his colleagues in the Senate will work to bring telehealth technology to all veterans in our country.
John Cianci is a National Duty Officer for the Italian-American War Veterans Inc., a VA Organization Accredited Duty Officer. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.