Telehealth program helps VA patients improve HIV suppression, study finds

HIV viral suppression improved among Department of Veterans Affairs patients who had access to telehealth services rather than having to travel for in-person care, according to a recent study published in Oxford Academic.

Iowa City VA Health Care System researchers analyzed data from HIV patients from three VA health networks between 2015-16. Researchers split the patients into two groups: the intention to treat group with 925 patients and the control group with 745 patients. The ITT group patients were offered telehealth services at their primary clinics, while the control group patients were offered telehealth services after one year of the study. Patients in the ITT group had previously traveled to an HIV specialty clinic for treatment.

During the study, researchers monitored the rate of telehealth use among the ITT group as well as both groups' viral suppression rates. After one year, 13 percent of the ITT group patients used the telehealth services. Concentrations of HIV remained within suppression range for 78.3 percent of patients in the ITT group in comparison to 74.1 percent of patients in the control group. Additionally, 91.5 percent of patients in the ITT group improved their documentation of viral suppression, versus 80 percent of control group patients.

Low telehealth use (13 percent) can be attributed to various factors, including the patients were already accustomed to traveling to the HIV specialty clinic for care, a "perceived HIV stigma in primary care clinics, visit convenience, transportation options, and comfort with specific aspects of telehealth visits," researchers wrote.

The researchers concluded that availability of telehealth programs improved patients' HIV care management and that HIV specialty clinics should implement telehealth visits for patients dealing with travel burdens.

More articles on telehealth:
Telehealth startup awarded $1.3M to develop virtual care platform for US service members
Best Buy acquires telehealth monitoring system for at-home senior care
How this Kansas medical center is using telehealth to improve patient outcomes

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