Over the past two-plus years, the COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on us all. From lost loved ones to the economic hardships many Americans continue to face today, it has not been an easy time. There were, however, certain advancements that occurred during the pandemic that we should be careful not to leave behind.
Not surprisingly, many of the most valuable advancements occurred in healthcare. Over the last couple of years, health and healthcare have been front and center in our collective consciousness. Through this renewed focus came the expansion of new healthcare technology, which grew out of necessity as frontline workers and healthcare professionals developed innovative solutions to the novel risks posed by the virus.
Telehealth was one of the innovations that gained traction due to COVID-19 when social distancing was paramount. Telehealth-based health programs allow doctors and specialists to see and attend to their patients virtually, allowing patients to receive high levels of remote care from anywhere in the country.
The convenience and accessibility telehealth provides has led to its continued prominence even as social distancing becomes less of a concern. Some experts estimate that telehealth usage is now nearly 40 times higher than it was at the start of the pandemic, and a recent study found that usage of this service grew more than 7,000 percent during the first year of the pandemic alone.
The expansion of telehealth in the medical community promises to drastically increase the accessibility of care for many patients. One group that will benefit immensely is our country’s veterans, many of whom bear physical and mental wounds from their service. Here in Rhode Island, 20 percent of our veterans have a service-related disability, making accessing adequate healthcare an absolute necessity.
Unfortunately, many veterans face a lack of convenient medical care. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, nearly a quarter of our former service members live in rural communities. And unfortunately, many of these communities face disproportionate barriers to adequate medical treatment due to a lack of facilities, resources, and specialists.
Telehealth addresses many of the geographical challenges that these rural communities face by granting them access to remote primary care and mental health support, as well as helpful services like nutritional advice and trained social workers. As a result, more and more lawmakers are pushing to create and expand solutions that offer telehealth services to former service members living in remote, underserved communities.
One great example of these solutions is the Accessing Telehealth through the Local Area Stations (ATLAS) program. This program, which was created through a partnership with the Department of Veterans Affairs, Veterans of Foreign Wars, the American Legion, and Philips, allows veterans to visit convenient telehealth stations to receive checkups and treatment without traveling significant distances to the nearest hospital or clinic. This technology is particularly beneficial for veterans who have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI) and may find traveling to larger urban areas for care overwhelming.
As technology continues to develop, we must use it to help those who need and deserve it the most. By investing in intelligent telehealth programs, even as we leave the pandemic behind, we can help improve healthcare for veterans. I know that Senator Jack Reed, a veteran himself, understands what it means to serve, and I hope he and his colleagues in the Senate will work to bring telehealth technology to all of our nation’s veterans.