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Making connections: nationwide implementation of video telehealth tablets to address access barriers in veterans.

Zulman DM, Wong EP, Slightam C, Gregory A, Jacobs JC, Kimerling R, Blonigen DM, Peters J, Heyworth L. Making connections: nationwide implementation of video telehealth tablets to address access barriers in veterans. JAMIA open. 2019 Oct 1; 2(3):323-329.

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BACKGROUND: Video telehealth technology has the potential to enhance access for patients with clinical, social, and geographic barriers to care. We evaluated the implementation of a US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) initiative to distribute tablets to high-need Veterans with access barriers. METHODS: In this mixed methods implementation study, we examined tablet adoption (ie, facility-level tablet distribution rates and patient-level tablet utilization rates) and reach (ie, sociodemographic and clinical characteristics of tablet recipients) between 5/1/16 and 9/30/17. Concurrently, we surveyed 68 facility telehealth coordinators to determine the most common implementation barriers and facilitators, and then conducted interviews with telehealth coordinators and regional leadership to identify strategies that facilitated tablet distribution and use. RESULTS: 86 VA facilities spanning all 18 geographic regions, distributed tablets to 6 745 patients. Recipients had an average age of 56 years, 53% lived in rural areas, 75% had a diagnosed mental illness, and they had a mean (SD) of 5 (3) chronic conditions. Approximately 4 in 5 tablet recipients used the tablet during the evaluation period. In multivariate logistic regression, tablet recipients were more likely to use their tablets if they were older and had fewer chronic conditions. Implementation barriers included insufficient training, staffing shortages, and provider disinterest (described as barriers by 59%, 55%, and 33% of respondents, respectively). Site readiness assessments, local champions, licensure modifications, and use of mandates and incentives were identified as strategies that may influence widespread implementation of home-based video telehealth. CONCLUSION: VA's initiative to distribute video telehealth tablets to high-need patients appears to have successfully reached individuals with social and clinical access barriers. Implementation strategies that address staffing constraints and provider engagement may enhance the impact of such efforts.

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