The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is working on a remote telepresence technology that will transform the way veterans receive their healthcare and soon allow all veterans to receive the same level of care, no matter where they live, according to a top VA official and doctor.

Dr. Thomas Osborne, director of the VA’s National Center for Collaborative Healthcare Innovation and chief medical informatics officer for VA’s Palo Alto Health Care System, described this new remote telepresence technology during a NextGov event today, saying “it’s so early” to announce the new technology “because this is sort of cutting edge.”

The VA did an experiment in which people physically in New York and California all joined the same virtual room through the remote telepresence technology and were able to manipulate “the same three-dimensional object, and it all felt like we were in the same room, but we were in other parts of the world,” Osborne said.

“Maybe you have an idea or procedure or a different technique that’s better than something else that’s been done before. It’s so quick now to teach it as opposed to getting on an airplane, which is difficult,” Osborne said, noting this technology is especially useful during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“In addition, imagine providing remote telepresence care, telehealth, in a way that is more humanlike,” he added. “Think about Star Wars where Princess Leia was projected as this hologram – we can do that type of stuff now.”

Although Osborne did not say exactly when this technology would become available to veterans, he did say the VA is “right at the cusp of making it a reality,” and that it will “transform healthcare into this way where we can democratize care where everybody can get the same level of care, no matter where they’re sitting.”

He also noted that VA has the potential to “create the healthcare system of the future” and that “technology has the potential” to solve healthcare challenges.

“This is the most exciting time in healthcare. Never before have there been challenges of this magnitude and tools that are emerging to solve them. It’s like a collision, in a good way,” Osborne said. “But we need to do it in a thoughtful way. It’s not just technology for technology’s sake. It’s thoughtfully implemented technology to solve problems that people need or want addressed.”

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Grace Dille
Grace Dille
Grace Dille is a MeriTalk Senior Technology Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.