The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and Walmart have partnered to open a telehealth center in Asheboro, North Carolina.
The partnership is a further expansion of the VA's Accessing Telehealth through Local Area Stations (ATLAS) project, which seeks to expand telehealth and provide better health care options to more than five million veterans living in rural areas. These veterans often must drive long distances to access VA care, and other telehealth options may not be available to them.
While the VA does provide telehealth options that veterans can access from their homes, or options that allow veterans to visit their local clinic and meet with a specialist across the country via the internet, there are still many veterans who remain underserved.
Many rural veterans have no high-speed internet options, or they are unable to travel regularly to a local VA clinic due to health concerns, age, weather or other travel limitations. The ATLAS project brings VA telehealth to veterans in their local communities through public/private partnerships.
The partnership between Walmart and the VA will give rural veterans new options to meet with their VA health care providers via the internet at select Walmarts across the country. The ATLAS project also has telehealth locations at select American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) posts.
The public-private affiliation provides convenient health care to veterans in their communities, officials say.
"This type of collaboration is the way of the future," said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. "Veterans need the expansion of choice, and this partnership is vital to affording them convenient access to VA health care services where they live."
Other Walmart telehealth pilot sites will be in Wisconsin, Michigan and Iowa.
Another partner, consumer electronics company Philips, has also partnered with the VA to open ATLAS sites in Eureka, Montana; Linesville, Pennsylvania; and Los Banos, California.
ATLAS locations provide veterans with comfortable, private spaces to have video appointments with VA providers. The sites offer health care services that don't require hands-on exams; no assisted physical exams are currently available at ATLAS sites. Currently, ATLAS sites offer primary care, mental health counseling, clinical pharmacy, nutrition services, social work and more.
At ATLAS sites, veterans meet with VA providers through VA Video Connect, the department's secure video-conferencing software. There is no co-pay for VA Video Connect appointments, whether at an ATLAS site or elsewhere. VA providers may prescribe most medications for veterans during appointments at ATLAS sites.
There are no VA employees based at ATLAS sites, but there is an attendant on-site who will provide veterans with information, assist them with getting started, troubleshoot any technical issues, and clean the space between appointments. The attendant will not be present once the appointment begins nor have access to veterans' medical information.
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