The Department of Veterans Affairs has announced a new telehealth initiative that includes regulatory changes to go along with a new mobile app to expand healthcare services to the nation’s veterans.

The “Anywhere to Anywhere VA Health Care” initiative allows VA providers to treat veterans anywhere in the country using telehealth technology.  Prior to passage, VA providers were barred from providing telehealth services across state lines. 

As part of the announcement, VA Secretary David Shulkin said the VA is working with the White House’s Office of American Innovation and the Department of Justice to issue the new regulation that allows providers to practice within the scope of their specialty anywhere in the country.

The VA treated more than 700,000 patients using telehealth services last year and covered at least 50 different specialties.  But the relaxing of regulations means that telehealth services will be able to dramatically expand beyond current capabilities.

“We are going to be able to use VA providers in cities where there are a lot of doctors, and be able to use those doctors to help our veterans in rural areas where there aren't many healthcare professionals,” said Shulkin.

“We’re removing regulations that have prevented us from doing this.  We’re removing geography as a barrier so that we can speed up access to veterans and really honor our commitment to them,” he added.

In addition to the regulatory change, the VA also has debuted a new mobile application called VA Video Connect, which allows veterans to connect with more that 300 VA providers in 67 hospitals and clinics across the country. 

Another mobile app called the Veterans Appointment Request (VAR) allows veterans to make appointments on their smartphones.  It is currently active in 18 regions, but the VA is moving forward with expanding it to the rest of the country.

Earlier this year, Shulkin named suicide prevention as his top clinical priority.  He also recently announced the expansion of VA mental health services to vets who received a less than honorable discharge from service.  Citing the expansion of teleheath services Shulkin also commented that “this is one of those areas where we can really use that expertise.”