President Donald Trump hailed a "historic breakthrough" Thursday at the Department of Veterans Affairs to expand telehealth services, allowing vets to get health care consultations and appointments on their smartphones and home devices.
"It will make a tremendous difference for the veterans in rural locations in particular," Trump said at a White House event and demonstration of the new technology with VA Secretary David Shulkin.
On a computer screen, Shulkin connected Trump with a Coast Guard veteran in Grants Pass, Ore., who was consulting with a skin specialist in Cleveland, Ore.
Shulkin went to a close-up of the patient's skin. "So as we focus in on that -- you can see, Mr. President -- I can take a look at that area and, if I have any concern about it, we can send this to a specialist or we can take a look at it," he said.
"You look pretty good to me," Trump told the vet and then added to Shulkin: "Please make sure his skin is perfect."
Trump said of the telehealth program, "We're expanding the ability of veterans to connect with their VA health care team from anywhere using mobile application on the veteran's own phone or the veteran's own computer.
"This will significantly expand access to care for our veterans, especially for those who need help in the area of mental health, which is a bigger and bigger request -- and also in suicide prevention," he said.
"We're launching the mobile app that will allow VA patients to schedule and change their appointments at VA facilities using their smartphones. So this is something they were never able to do. Technology has given us this advantage, but unfortunately we have not taken advantage of that until now," Trump said.
"What we're announcing today is a big deal for veterans," Shulkin said.
He said the VA "already has the largest telehealth program in the country. Last year, we had 700,000 veterans who got telehealth services through the VA."
The announcement Thursday is the first step in efforts to "dramatically expand our current capabilities" on telehealth, Shulkin said.
"By working with the Office of American Innovation and the Department of Justice, we're going to be issuing a regulation that allows our VA providers to provide telehealth services from anywhere in the country to veterans anywhere in the country, whether it's in their homes or any location. We call it 'Anywhere To Anywhere' VA health care. That's a big deal," Shulkin said.
"What we're going to be rolling out nationally ... is what's called VA Video Connect. VA Video Connect allows VA providers to use mobile devices to connect with veterans on their mobile devices or their home computers," he added.
Shulkin said the agency currently uses VA Video Connect with more than 300 providers at 67 VA hospitals and clinics across the country, "but that's beginning to roll out nationally" in the expansion.
He said the VA also has in the works plans for "a new technology called the Veterans Appointment Request" that will allow the veteran "on their smartphone to be able to schedule their appointments directly with VA providers, or to change their appointments, or cancel their appointments with VA providers."
"Now today, this is available in all 18 of our regions across the country. And we've already booked more than 4,000 appointments from veterans directly from their smartphones so that they can schedule their own appointments," Shulkin said.
"But now we're announcing the national rollout of this. And if veterans want to see and get the Veterans Appointment Request, you can see it on our website -- mobile.va.gov/appstore. The VA app store has this available for download," he said.