Over the last 20 years, technology has changed and reshaped just about every aspect of our lives. Many of us remember vividly what life was like before the Internet or before mobile phones, and we may not have expected the information age to come so swiftly, and with such sweeping change. Given the pace of change, it might seem impossible to look out to 2025 or 2035 and envision what health care delivery will or should look like. However, there are signs and trends that are allowing us – as leaders in health care at VA – to prepare for the changes ahead.
As a VA primary care physician at the Washington, D.C. VA Medical Center and as Acting Chief Officer for VA’s new Office of Connected Care, I rely on a few basic principles while considering how technology will ultimately transform how health care is delivered and accessed at VA.
- Consumers increasingly expect digital interactions to reliably meet their needs, and even to delight them. Our focus and promise to Veterans must be to deliver convenient, delightful and understandable digital products that allow them to connect with the VA health care system, at all levels – from simple transactions and requests for information, to full-out virtual care. These products need to be available to Veterans on their devices, in the location of their choosing. This doesn’t mean that all care can, or should be, delivered on a Veteran’s personal device or in their home. But, we definitely need to have that option available when it is appropriate.
- Relationships and our shared humanity matter. We cannot lose sight of the importance of relationships, and of our shared humanity, as we implement technologies at various levels of the Veteran health care experience. Yes, the world is going digital. And yes, technology is important. But, technology divorced from human connection will only disappoint. Health care is about relationships built on trust, and focused on improving health.
- Health care teams are often overwhelmed and are being asked to do more and more. As we work to improve the Veteran experience, we must also ensure that technologies are designed with our health care teams’ needs in mind. Ease of use is essential. Health care team-facing virtual care tools should be intuitive and optimized for quality. This will help VA attract and retain clinicians that want to stay and serve our Veterans, delivering the best care.
VA’s newly formed Office of Connected Care brought together VHA Telehealth Services and My HealtheVet, two of VA’s flagship programs, along with the VHA Innovation Program and VA Mobile. Supported by the technologies and services these teams have developed, VA has already set a high bar. Last year, more than 2.1 million episodes of care were delivered to Veterans via telehealth. More than 3 million Veterans were registered users of My HealtheVet, with more than 13 million VA prescriptions refilled and more than 1.6 million Veterans using Secure Messaging to communicate to their VA care teams. However, this is just the beginning of an ongoing transformation. If we keep the above principles in mind and likewise keep the needs of Veterans, their Caregivers and their health care providers at the forefront of our technologies, I’m optimistic about how things actually will look in 2025 or 2035!
About the Author: Neil C. Evans, MD is the Acting Chief Officer for the Veterans Health Administration’s newly formed Office of Connected Care.