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Telehealth Complementary and Integrative Health Therapies During COVID-19 at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Der-Martirosian C, Shin M, Upham ML, Douglas JH, Zeliadt SB, Taylor SL. Telehealth Complementary and Integrative Health Therapies During COVID-19 at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Telemedicine journal and e-health : the official journal of the American Telemedicine Association. 2023 Apr 1; 29(4):576-583.

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Complementary and integrative health (CIH) therapies, such as in-person acupuncture, chiropractic care, and meditation, are evidence-based nonpharmaceutical treatment options for pain. During COVID-19, the Veterans Health Administration (VA) delivered several CIH therapies virtually. This study explores veterans' utilization, advantages/disadvantages, and delivery issues of yoga, Tai Chi, meditation/mindfulness (self-care), and massage, chiropractic, and acupuncture (practitioner-delivered care), using telephone/video at 18 VA sites during COVID-19. Use of virtual care was examined quantitatively with VA administrative data for six CIH therapies before and after COVID-19 onset (2019-2021). Advantages/disadvantages and health care delivery issues of these CIH therapies through virtual care were examined qualitatively using interview data (2020-2021). Overall, televisits represented a substantial portion of all CIH self-care therapies delivered by VA in 2020 (53.7%) and 2021 (82.1%), as sites developed virtual group classes using VA secure online video platforms in response to COVID-19. In contrast, a small proportion of all encounters with acupuncturists, chiropractors, and massage therapists was telephone/video encounters in 2020 (17.3%) and in 2021 (5.4%). These were predominantly one-on-one care in the form of education, follow-ups, home exercises, assessments/evaluations, or acupressure. Delivery issues included technical difficulties, lack of access to needed technology, difficulty tracking virtual visits, and capacity restrictions. Advantages included increased access to self-care, increased patient receptivity to engaging in self-care, and flexibility in staffing online group classes. Disadvantages included patient preference, patient safety, and strain on staffing. Despite delivery issues or disadvantages of tele-CIH self-care, veterans' use of teleself-care CIH therapies grew substantially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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