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VA Expands Telehealth Services For Veterans Living With Cancer

The Department of Veterans Affairs is using a $4.5 million grant from the Bristol Myers Squibb Foundation to expand its teleoncology platform, giving veterans virtual access to genetic testing and precision cancer care.

– The Department of Veterans Affairs is expanding its telehealth platform to give veterans access to precision cancer care and genetic counseling no matter where they live.

The VA announced last week that it’s broadening the reach of its connected health services with a $4.5 million grant from the Bristol Myers Squibb Foundation. Facilitated by the VA’s Center for Strategic Partnerships, the money will be used to develop a teleoncology platform through the foundation’s Global Cancer Disparities Initiative.

“Delivering innovative solutions through virtual care technologies is vital,” VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said in a press release. “The VA-Bristol Myers Squibb Foundation partnership will build on the Veterans Health Administration’s (VHA) recent telehealth expansion to establish a leading-edge hub for teleoncology which will serve as a model for oncology specialists in every health care system.”

With some 40,000 new cancer cases among veterans being reported each year – and percentages rising as veterans from Afghanistan and Iraq enter the mix – cancer care management is rising to the top of an increasingly more complex list of services offered by the nation’s VA health system. Up until recently, that care was almost exclusively delivered in person.

But with many of the nation’s 2.6 million veterans living in remote locations, dealing with mobility or transportation issues or simply hesitant to travel to the nearest hospital, the nation’s largest health system has been moving to embrace connected health. The number of veterans accessing healthcare through telehealth jumped 17 percent from 2018 to 2019, while virtual visits made through the VA’s Video Connect App jumped 235 percent.

This past January, the VA launched the first telemedicine-based chemotherapy clinic, linking the James E. Van Zandt VA Medical Center in Altoona, PA, with the VA Pittsburgh Medical Center some 100 miles distant.

With this latest partnership, the VA aims to offer genetic counseling as well as precision cancer care through the VA Video Connect mHealth platform, which the department is touting as one of the largest and most successful in the nation.

“The foundation will work with VA to accelerate the growth of teleoncology,” Bristol Myers Squibb Foundation President John L. Damonti added in the press release. “By developing, implementing and standardizing workflow processes, this project will expedite the expansion of a model for delivering specialized oncology care in a virtual setting — and help cancer care teams provide the utmost patient experience in a virtual care environment.”

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