Whole Health is VA’s cutting-edge approach to care that supports Veteran health and well-being. Whole Health centers around what matters to you, not what is the matter with you. This means a VA patient’s health team will get to know them as a person before working with them to develop a personalized health plan based on their values, needs, and goals.
This approach to health care is much different than the traditional method of care delivery where a patient seeks out a provider to help with a medical concern and the provider addresses the individual issue and then sends the patient on his or her way.
“Historically, providers looked at an acute medical issue presented by a patient, treated the issue as they deemed clinically appropriate, and really did not take a look at all the other factors that could have contributed to a particular condition or even helped the patient thrive after treatment,” said Michelle Winslow, Whole Health Program Manager, VISN 8.
“With Whole Health, our providers are not only treating the immediate health concern, they are also working with Veterans to identify what is important to them outside of conventional treatment,” she said. “This includes things like personal development, meditation, movement, building relationships and exploring complimentary alternative therapies. By focusing on the bigger picture and putting Veterans in the driver’s seat, we are able to achieve better overall health outcomes.”
A big part of VISN 8’s Whole Health implementation is the hiring and training of specialized staff called Whole Health Coaches. More than 170 Whole Health Coaches have been hired and are now working in PACTs across the network. The coaches are Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs) by profession and were required to undergo a 4-week training course. The training equipped the coaches with tools for positive change through meditation, biofeedback, movement, nutrition and other skills.
“Whole Health coaches in VISN 8 act as guides and support for Veterans and help them develop personalized health plans based on what matters most to them,” Winslow said. “They are not there to tell Veterans what they should be doing. They seek to support Veterans in achieving a standard of optimal health, physical and social well being based on Veterans’ goals, values, preferences, and lifestyle.”
Improving the patient experience
According to Dr. Miguel Lapuz, VISN 8 Network Director, the roll out of Whole Health in VISN 8 has been modified to improve patient experience. Veterans involved in the Whole Health program at VISN 8 facilities report it to be life changing and are encouraging other Veterans to get involved.
“Before I was engaged in Whole Health, I was in a really dark place,” said Navy Veteran Sam Martino. “I wanted to end my life, my physical being was wearing me out. I’ve had a lot of surgeries, I couldn’t walk on my own anymore, and I really did not want to be here.”
Martino, who receives care at The Villages Outpatient Clinic operated by the North Florida/South Georgia Veterans Health System, said he was introduced to Whole Health by his psychologist, Dr. Susan Forbes.
“My emotional state before being in the Whole Health program to now is just a world of difference. I’m a different person. I’m not the same person who started in this program, and I thank god for that, I really do. Whole Health is just a lifesaver, and I wish everybody would try it.”
In the future
The future of VA Whole Health is promising as VISN 8 leaders are sharing their early successes of Whole Health implementation with Veterans Health Administration (VHA) leadership and with other networks across the country.
“Our goal with Whole Health is to create a model of implementation that is successful and can be duplicated across the VA,” Winslow said.
This story is part of the Secretary’s Priorities series, which was outlined to the House Committee on Appropriations, Subcommittee on Military Constructions, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies on Feb. 26, 2019, by VA Secretary Wilkie. The Secretary’s Priorities are Customer Service, MISSION Act, Electronic Health Record, Transforming Business Systems, and Suicide Prevention. These stories are designed to give a closer look at the improvements VA is making in how we relate to, interact with, and ultimately serve our Veterans, their families, caregivers and survivors.