The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) will soon begin reimbursing its physicians for activity trackers that can deliver data on the effectiveness of prosthetic devices and how much patients are using them. Activity tracker reimbursement is included in the VA’s new, mandatory contracting template for providers to use when negotiating contracts with vendors that sell prosthetic limbs and custom orthoses for injured veterans.
“We’ve allowed for outcome monitoring devices for the first time ever,” Joe Miller, MD, national program director for the VA’s Orthotic and Prosthetic Services, was quoted as saying by MobiHealthNews. “The industry is constantly referring to different devices and outcomes….[W]e’re hoping that the local facilities on contract with us and our own internal workforces will begin prescribing these devices for new prosthetic limbs. And we’ll be able to look at how this affects different outcomes of care and healthcare utilization.”
The contract template specifies that the devices must be able to measure a number of highly specific metrics such as stance and swing time, gait symmetry, dynamic function, cadence and cadence variability, step count, numbers of steps per time interval, peak performance, and functional level assessment, reported MobiHealthNews, and they must record continuously and accurately.
Miller estimates that only about 5 percent of VA clinics are using wearable devices to monitor patients’ use of O&P devices. Within the next couple of years, as providers renew their vendor contracts, that number should increase, which could lead to cost savings or improvements in care. He also stressed that the VA wants to use step data to improve care for patients, not to aggregate it, and that the data and the devices will belong to the patients.
The change was motivated by an Office of the Inspector General (OIG) audit of the VA’s practices in regard to procurement of prosthetics. The VA needed to show that it was being fiscally responsible as new technological advances cause the price of prostheses to increase.
“We want to continue supplying state-of-the-art devices,” Miller told MobilHealthNews, “but we have to have an understanding of what they do. We have to continue to report to Congress as well as to the American people that we’re utilizing the funds we receive in a very efficient and effective manner, and this is one way to do that. And that will keep us-hopefully-funded for these new technologies in the future.”
Editor’s note: This story was adapted from materials provided by MobiHealthNews.