McDonough: VA Seeing ‘Incremental but Accelerating Progress’ on EHR Modernization

April 15, 2024
Secretary of Veteran Affairs also spoke about the increasing role telehealth is playing in providing mental healthcare to veterans

In April 11 testimony about budget proposals before a U.S. House Committee, Secretary of Veteran Affairs Denis McDonough said he expects the Electronic Health Record Modernization Program to move beyond the current “Reset” phase sometime in 2025. 

In written testimony presented to the U.S. House Committee on Veterans Affairs, McDonough noted that the Reset, announced in April 2023, deferred work on future deployments of the Federal electronic health record (EHR) other than the joint VA/DoD deployment at the Lovell Federal Health Care Center in North Chicago in March 2024. During the Reset the VA is prioritizing improvements at the six sites and 22 clinics that currently use the Federal EHR. 

“VA is seeing incremental, but accelerating progress as it addresses the issues that clinicians and other end users are experiencing and as it optimizes the current state of the EHR system to ensure the enterprise-wide foundation is in place for success when deployments resume,” he said. “The FY 2025 budget of $894 million supports the Reset and sustainment/maintenance of the six sites. VA acknowledges that an updated deployment schedule is critical to demonstrating commitment to providing the Federal EHR to end users across the enterprise and will provide that schedule to the Committee once it has been determined.”

Telemental health visits increase

McDonough also spoke about the increasing role telehealth is playing, especially video mental healthcare including substance use disorder treatment, in improving access to mental health services.

Video mental healthcare now constitutes 33 percent of total mental healthcare visits, showcasing the significant role of telehealth during and beyond the pandemic. In fiscal year  2023, over 1 million veterans benefited from nearly 6 million video telemental health (TMH) care visits, marking a 5 percent increase in veterans and a 1 percent increase in visits compared to FY 2022; 96 percent of these TMH visits occurred in a veteran’s home or offsite location, emphasizing the convenience and accessibility of the service. 

Because most mental health visits can be conducted using telehealth, it increases the available options for providing mental healthcare to all veterans, no matter where they or their providers are in the U.S. This helps increase healthcare equity and access, he said. “Telehealth offers veterans greater choice and removes their individual barriers to care—barriers such as stigma, transportation, distance to facility, childcare, financial constraints, logistical issues, and lack of access to in-person specialists who can deliver evidence-based interventions.”

Telehealth has become a primary consideration for veterans seeking mental healthcare, with those in rural areas using video services at rates comparable to others. With plans to increase telehealth support staff and specialized providers, VA is continuing to enhance its nationwide telelemental health network so even more veterans can access mental health care virtually.

Connected Care
The 2025 budget also includes $440 million for the Connected Care program and supports the ongoing expansion and enhancement of telehealth services directly to veteran homes (video-to-home services); goals to standardize the availability of digital services for all veterans; expansion of regional telehealth hubs, novel access and experience innovations; and the need to sustain previous expansion efforts funded with the support of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act and the American Rescue Plan funding. 

VA delivered over 11.6 million telehealth episodes of care to veterans in the last fiscal year. This includes over 9.4 million episodes of care to veterans in their home or other locations and more than 2.9 million telehealth episodes of care to rural veterans. Overall, VA provided telehealth services to over 2.4 million unique veterans, representing about 40 percent of veterans served in VA.

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