Takeaway: HSR&D and QUERI investigators, partnering with VA’s Office of Rural Health, have generated several publications describing the distribution and impact of VA-issued tablets for Veterans with access barriers. Findings from their evaluation of VA-issued tablets were incorporated into the MISSION Act Report presented to Congress in Spring 2019.
Of the approximate nine million enrolled Veterans receiving VA healthcare, nearly one-third live in rural, highly-rural, and insular island areas, and many others experience transportation and financial challenges that are deterrents to using VA healthcare. These barriers are further compounded by the pandemic.
In 2016, VA’s Offices of Rural Health and Connected Care developed a pilot initiative to distribute video-enabled tablets to Veterans who did not have the necessary technology and who had a geographic, clinical, or social barrier to in-person healthcare.1 During this pilot, 5,000 tablets were distributed to 6,745 patients at 86 VA facilities. More than half of tablet recipients live in rural areas and 75% have a mental health diagnosis, providing a unique opportunity to assess the effectiveness of this national dissemination of tablets.1 Tablets were predominantly used for mental health care, but also for spinal cord injury care, primary care, palliative care, rehabilitation, and other services. In a study funded by QUERI and VA’s Office of Rural Health (ORH), investigators found that:
Partnering with ORH and VA’s Office of Connected Care (OCC), QUERI’s Enhancing Veterans’ Access to Care through Video Telehealth Tablets project continues this work by examining the reach, adoption, and implementation of tablets to better target high-need patients – and is evaluating the effectiveness of tablets on Veteran access, clinical outcomes, and experience.
Informed by the findings of the QUERI evaluation, OCC expanded VA’s tablet distribution program; more than 80,000 Veterans have now received tablets, with more than 50,000 receiving a device during the COVID-19 pandemic.