The majority of veterans who received iPads through the Veterans Health Administration’s “digital divide” consult program never used them for video appointments and staff were slow to retrieve and redistribute the devices, according to a report conducted by the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Office of Inspector General.
The OIG report—which focused on the first three quarters of the 2021 fiscal year—found that VHA distributed iPads to roughly 41,000 patients, but approximately 51% of veterans who received the devices did not use them to connect to video telehealth services.
“An estimated 10,700 patients never had a VVC appointment scheduled, as there was no requirement to schedule, and neither the patient nor the staff initiated scheduling a VVC appointment,” the report said. “The review team estimated that more than 10,000 patients had a VVC appointment scheduled but did not complete the VVC visit for various reasons, such as technical issues or a cancelation, and a subsequent VVC appointment was not completed.”
VHA initiated the digital divide consults and device distribution efforts in August 2020 to help patients virtually connect with health providers during the coronavirus pandemic. The program identifies patients who lack internet access or video-capable devices but could still benefit from telehealth services. Eligible veterans receive an iPad with a Verizon Wireless or T-Mobile data plan, which allows them to receive video health services through VA Video Connect.
The report noted that device retrieval efforts and other operating procedures were impacted by the pandemic’s strain on VHA staff, “which required an urgency of decision-making to address