VA partners with Facebook, Red Cross on video call devices

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs continues its rollout of telehealth tools through a partnership with social media company Facebook and the American Red Cross.

Through the partnership, qualified veterans and their caregivers will receive Facebook’s stand-alone video-chatting device, Portal, to reduce isolation and improve social connectedness at home.

The Portal devices comes equipped a smart camera and can make video calls to their contacts on Messenger and WhatsApp, and also comes with Amazon’s Alexa service pre-loaded to allow users to listen to music or do online shopping.

Other features include the camera’s ability to widen focus when additional people walk into the room, as well as a Smart Sound feature that enhances the voice of whoever is speaking while minimizing background noise.

In addition, Facebook will provide free help desk services and technical assistance for veterans and their caregiver or families, but notes users must have a Facebook or WhatsApp account to use the devices.

The Red Cross Military Veteran Caregiver Network will store and ship the more than 7,400 units in pairs, and the process can take from four to six weeks, according to the VA.

The program available to vets participating in REACH-VET, one of VA’s Caregiver Support Programs, including the General Caregiver Support Services or Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers, as well as any of the VA’s Geriatric and Extended Care Services programs.

Earlier this month, the VA noted virtual mental health care use on the rise amid the COVID-19 pandemic, with the number of telehealth group therapy sessions jumping more than 200 percent in March compared with the previous month.

In addition, Vet Centers across the country held more than 47,000 virtual appointments in March, also a 200 percent increase from February, and mental health providers completed more than 34,000 appointments with Veterans using VA Video Connect.

In its COVID-19 Response Plan released at the end of March, the VA highlighted telehealth as a way to reduce the number of cases entering medical facilities, and to provide a mechanism to monitor and track patients under care in home quarantine.

Telehealth has emerged has a key care technology for multiple groups during the pandemic, with some practices experiencing an explosion of telehealth use.

“Veterans, families and caregivers will benefit through an increased support system,” VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said in a statement. “Our goal is for Veterans to feel less isolated through more communication. We believe this technology will help Veterans who might otherwise be unreachable.” 

Nathan Eddy is a healthcare and technology freelancer based in Berlin.
Email the writer: [email protected]
Twitter: @dropdeaded209

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