VA telehealth app keeps crashing for patients and providers 

The number of virtual visits on the Veterans Health Administration's telehealth platform has skyrocketed from about 2,000 per day to 20,000, resulting in user issues for both patients and providers, Texas Public Radio reports. 

One patient who downloaded the VA's Video Connect app to his smartphone in March as an alternative to his regular in-person appointments told the network he experienced audio and visual disruptions during two of his three virtual visits. He said the virtual connection would fluctuate between having video but no audio and vice versa. Unable to fix the technical issues, the patient and his social worker finished his appointment using Apple FaceTime instead, according to the report.  

The technical issues are usually the result of a bandwidth or reception issue on the patient's end, said Dr. Ira Kedson, a VA psychologist and president of the American Federation of Government Employees' Coatesvile, Pa.-based chapter. "There are times when providers can't get into the sessions. We get an error message saying that the resource is not available," Dr. Kedson said. "There are times when people will get kicked off." 

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the VA is working to increase the amount of bandwidth available to providers while also strengthening its servers to let more people use VA Video Connect at the same time. Congress also awarded the VA more than $2 billion last month to support its telehealth efforts, according to the report. 

While the transition to a widely scaled telehealth program has been challenging, there are various factors that affect the success of virtual visits, including variability in broadband access and cellular signal where patients live, according to Leonie Heyworth, MD, head of synchronous telehealth at the VA. 

"We had planned to increase the capacity gradually over time. But because of the time-sensitive need — a real pivot to the virtual care offerings — we wanted to make sure that there were plenty of connections available for people to be in session at the same time," Dr. Heyworth said. 

VA providers and patients are also able to use private videoconferencing platforms such as FaceTime and while the department continues its telehealth expansion. 

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