The Department of Veterans Affairs, which already has the country’s largest telemedicine program, conducted more than 1 million video telehealth encounters last year.

The milestone—reached in fiscal year 2018—represents a 19 percent increase in video telehealth visits over the previous year, according to the VA.

Of the 2.3 million episodes of telehealth care conducted from October 2017 through September 2018, about half—1,074,400—were video telehealth encounters, which enable real-time interaction between VA care teams and veterans in a clinic or at home.

In addition, more than 105,000 of those video visits were enabled by VA Video Connect—the technology program that enables providers to connect with veteran’s personal mobile device, smartphone, tablet or computer.

Clinical video telehealth, which occurs as real-time interactive video conferencing to assess, treat and provide care to a patient remotely, is typically used to link a veteran at a clinic to a provider at a VA medical center in another location. However, VA Video Connect provides fast, easy, encrypted, real-time access to care wherever they might be located.

The VA has been expanding its telemedicine capabilities to meet the growing needs of its patient population, particularly in the area of mental health services as well as rural and underserved parts of the United States. More than half of the video encounters last year—582,000—supported veterans located in rural areas.

“VA’s telehealth capabilities are bridging the care gap for many veterans,” says VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “This technology gives veterans access to the timely, quality care they deserve, without having to travel great distances to a VA facility. Time spent traveling is time away from veterans’ jobs and families.”

Clinicians and veterans meet through real-time virtual consultations at the VA’s more than 900 community-based outpatient facilities via video telehealth, with a specialist physician or another practitioner in more than 50 specialties, ranging from mental health to rehabilitation.

“The other half of VA telehealth encounters were not real-time, interactive visits; instead, VA staff monitored, screened, assessed veteran data (such as vital signs, sleep studies and more) or images (including skin rash, eye disease and the like) sent by other VA staff in another VA clinic, or sent by a veteran or caregiver from home,” states the agency.

This “store-and-forward” telehealth leverages technology to asynchronously acquire and store clinical information such as data, images, sound and video that is then assessed by a provider at another location for clinical evaluation.