The American Medical Association published a study this week showing video-enabled tablets helped veterans in the COVID-19 pandemic get more psychotherapy and use the ER less.
The study, led by researchers at VA Palo Alto Healthcare System in Menlo Park, California, examined nearly 500,000 veterans who had a history of mental health care utilization.
According to researchers, this was the largest evaluation ever of a health system intervention to distribute video-enabled telehealth tablets to patients with mental health needs and access barriers.
WHY IT IS IMPORTANT
Researchers note in their article that U.S. veterans are experiencing a mental health crisis, with suicide rates 1.5 times higher than those of non-veterans.
Rural veterans die by suicide at a higher rate than urban ones.
In addition, factors like isolation and reduced interaction with healthcare professionals have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
During the pandemic, the Department of Veterans Affairs stepped up efforts to give video-enabled tablets to veterans who couldn't get care.
Researchers looked at the outcomes of veterans receiving tablets between March 16, 2020 and April 30, 2021 among rural patients that had at least one VA mental health visit in 2019.
The study found that tablets were associated with an increase in psychotherapy visits across all modalities and a decrease in emergency room visits, including suicide-related ones.
In the study, the researchers reported, "Tablets are associated with reduced ED visits and suicide behavior, which confirms a previous finding that tablets ease continuity of mental health care."
However, the study's scope was limited due to the fact that they were not able to examine "all potential mechanisms through which tablets may reduce suicide behavior and emergency department visits.".
Future studies should examine tablet-associated program and utilization costs, along with the range of mechanisms and outcomes tablets can influence.
"Since these results may not be easily generalized to non-VA settings, studies on device-enabled virtual care outside the VA are also needed," they emphasized.
THE BIGGER TREND
While the pandemic is going on, the VA has continued to ramp up its telemedicine program.
There was an opportunity to procure remote patient monitoring and telemedicine devices for VA facilities in September 2021, pursuant to a billion-dollar contract.
Telehealth is showing results. Just this week, a VA study showed that stroke patients can benefit from telehealth.
A cohort study of the VA's distribution of video-enabled tablets to rural veterans during the COVID-19 pandemic discovered that tablets were associated with increased video mental health service use, increased psychotherapy visits, reduced suicide behavior, and fewer ED visits, according to the JAMA Network Open study.
Veterans Affairs and other healthcare systems should deploy video-enabled tablets to improve access to mental health services via telehealth and prevent suicides among rural residents, according to the researchers.