Faced with the rapid spread of a new, highly contagious virus, the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) was well-positioned to provide virtual care at scale. Their findings confirm a swift expansion of virtual care, including telephone and video visits, and a parallel decrease of in-person visits. In addition to using standardized tools to identify those with complex needs and at the highest risk, care teams at local VA facilities were aided by March 2020 guidance from national primary care and mental health leadership to prioritize these efforts. As the data show, virtual visits address, and will continue to address, the critically important need of providing essential health care while minimizing patient risk.
Overall, further investigation is required to determine the optimal combination of virtual and in-person care for different clinical conditions and patient populations, especially for those with complex medical, social, and behavioral needs.
As a learning health care system, the VHA is using such information to further evaluate and research potential strategies. The COVID-19 pandemic has inextricably changed the way we think of care delivery, with the rapid evolution of virtual care. We now have a unique opportunity to redefine post-pandemic care with the continued use of virtual care in the VA and other health systems.
We must understand how best to integrate emerging virtual care tools. Also, policymakers have signaled that virtual care is here to stay.