The following guest post was submitted to VAntage Point by Neil C. Evans, MD, the Chief Officer of the VA Office of Connected Care.
As Valentine’s Day approaches, it is hard to avoid a host of online articles about how to make relationships work. Trust, fostered by honesty and open communication, is a key goal in any successful relationship. And I’d argue trust applies to more than just our personal relationships, it’s also fundamental within the relationships we depend on for our health care.
As the Chief Officer of VA’s Office of Connected Care, I’m proud to lead a team that seeks to leverage technology to allow Veterans to connect to their VA care teams in new and creative ways – with a goal of improving their overall health.
I’ve sometimes found people assume our core focus is technology. I do believe the health care industry has just begun to scratch the surface of how wisely-applied technology can improve quality of care, provider- patient relationships and ultimately, patient health outcomes. Yet, technology is not what’s most important.
What matters are the relationships between a patient and their health care team that technology can secure and support. Relationships are the meaningful connections technology can facilitate. Technology can inspire a transformation of the traditional health care experience. It can help Veterans and caregivers take control of their own health.
Knowledge delivered in the absence of a relationship has limited use.
As a primary care physician at the Washington DC VA Medical Center, I see first-hand how Veterans desire and value consistent access to their health care teams whether they are asking a quick question about a medication through My HealtheVet’s Secure Messaging feature or whether they need to connect across a distance through VA Telehealth Services to a provider who is uniquely equipped to assist them.
Regardless of the medium, the feedback I consistently hear from Veterans is their desire to have simple and accessible tools that allow them to communicate with someone they trust as they navigate their own health journey. For me, it’s essential to focus any technology solutions toward honoring and keeping those relationships sacred, as part of our expressions of gratitude to those who served.
VA has been developing several new solutions to give Veterans more access to their health care teams, two of which I’ll highlight.
One of our newest products in field testing is VA Video Connect, which enables patients to conduct video visits with VA providers using their personal mobile devices. Currently, it is being tested by 5,000 Veterans across the country. VA Video Connect allows Veterans who live far from medical centers or whose health conditions preclude them from traveling to hold live video appointments from the convenience of their own phone, desktop or tablet. This can be especially helpful when Veterans are managing a chronic disease or live far from a VA medical facility.
Another area where we are making great strides is through Regional/National Telehealth Hubs, which VA has created to serve areas of the country with fewer specialty providers. For example, over the past year VA opened TeleMental hubs in Pittsburgh, Charleston, Salt Lake City and the Pacific Northwest that provide phone and video mental health appointments for Veterans across the country. Hubs are also being established to support delivery of primary care to remote locations.
Additionally, VA’s Tele-Genomic Medicine Services, based in Utah, provides genomic medicine and counseling service to more than 80 VA medical centers. And two Tele-ICU centers in Minneapolis and Chicago provide additional support to intensive care unit staff in ICUs across the nation.
Access to providers plus access to information leads to better health outcomes.
It is also important for Veterans to have access to their own health information and to have the digital tools they need to help manage their health. For many years now, VA has been working to make individual health information more accessible to patients so Veterans can view it securely, when and where they need it – by desktop, laptop, tablet or smart phone.
As part of our efforts to make health information more available, we are making changes to enhance the My HealtheVet experience, which saw 55.8 million Veteran visits in 2016. Veterans can review most of the data from their own medical record through VA’s Blue Button. Through the Open Notes initiative, VA also makes clinical progress notes available for review online. Furthermore, VA is testing and rolling out a variety of web and mobile apps that connect Veterans to their health information, which ultimately should help Veterans have more control and understanding of their health decisions.
The combination of access to relevant health information and enhanced avenues for communication is an important part of our relationship with Veterans, whether it’s Valentine’s day or not. We will continue striving to provide Veterans with:
- The ability to complete simple health-related tasks online
- Secure online access to health care records and vetted health information
- Multiple communications channels for Veterans to reach their health care team
- Connections to VA expertise when and where Veterans need it
Connected Care aims to enhance the Veteran experience, make health care simpler and augment the connections we all need and desire along our lifetime health journey.
For more information about VA’s Connected Care technologies, visit https://connectedcare.va.gov/.
Neil C. Evans, MD, is the Chief Officer of the VA Office of Connected Care where he oversees VA Telehealth, My HealtheVet, VA Mobile and VHA Innovation. For the past 15 years, he has served as a primary care physician at the Washington, DC VA Medical Center. Next week, Dr. Evans will be sharing some of VA’s digital health technologies work with other clinicians and health IT industry professionals at the HIMSS Annual Conference and Exhibition in Orlando.