VA is focused on quickly administering the COVID-19 vaccine to Veterans, especially Veterans who live in rural areas. Thanks to VEText, a text message appointment reminder system for Veterans with the potential to decrease no-shows, developed through the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) Innovation Ecosystem (VHA IE), VA already had systems in place to begin doing just that.
VEText is alerting Veterans about COVID-19 information, vaccine availability and scheduling. As a result, Veterans receive trustworthy and timely information about the vaccine.
The creation and support of VEText through the VHA IE’s Innovators Network (iNET) meant that when rapid messaging and appointment scheduling was needed for COVID-19, VHA was already ready.
Nine million no-shows a year
2017 was three years before COVID hit. Then, two frontline employees at the VA Loma Linda Health Care System in California saw that missed patient appointments led to decreased access to Veteran care. They had an idea.
They also contributed significantly to increased waiting times, reduced appointment availability, higher costs, poor efficiency, and lower patient satisfaction.
Shane Elliott is a senior IT specialist and Deanna Callahan is a supervisory health system specialist. They realized 9 million appointments across health care systems nationwide go un-utilized each year due to no-shows.
They went to work developing VEText with Robert Durkin in the VA Office Information and Technology (OIT). The VEText team received funding through iNET’s Spark-Seed-Spread Investment Program in 2017. It began testing within their medical center, eventually spreading to three more.
The success of the program led to providing VEText nationwide with the help of the VA OIT Office of the Chief Technology Officer and VHA Office of Veterans Access to Care. The team, however, didn’t stop there, eventually developing an Open Slot Management tool that automatically redirected cancelled appointments to Veterans who were waiting more than 30 days for new ones.
To date, VEText has enabled the re-booking of over one million appointments.
System was in use in March 2020
The new VEText COVID-19 services are built off the innovative work already done by the VEText team and VHA IE. The service shows the practice’s incredible ability to expand and adapt to the needs of Veterans. VA looked for a way to inform Veterans rapidly and accurately during the COVID-19 pandemic. It turned to VEText, which began disseminating COVID-19 information in March 2020.
The texts sent by the COVID-19 Information Mass Messaging initiative provided links to VHA’s COVID-19 response resource page. The page answers frequently asked questions (FAQs), provides mental health and well-being information, and more.
The service hasn’t stopped there, and the team innovates further. VEText is now being used to streamline COVID-19 screenings for Veterans coming to medical facilities, deliver “I Am Here” alerts so Veterans can be checked in remotely, keep Veterans informed of vaccine roll out and processes, and be alerted to and schedule COVID-19 vaccination appointments.
Many ways VEText is being used
VEText is now being used in a variety of ways by VA facilities across the country. For example, it is helping Veterans schedule their COVID-19 vaccination appointments:
- COVID-19 Screening Tool Integration: To streamline the entrance process at VA facilities, the VEText team partnered with the COVID-19 Screening Tool team to allow Veterans to send a keyword to receive the COVID-19 Screening Tool via text message. Veterans can complete this screener on their mobile phone and show the results to a VA employee at the entrance.
- VEText – I Am Here feature: To protect Veterans, caregivers and VA employees during the COVID-19 pandemic, VA facilities must follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance on physical distancing for in-person appointments. Many VA clinics have small waiting rooms that do not allow for proper distancing. The VEText team developed a feature to allow VA facilities to check Veterans in remotely, while ensuring physical distancing.
- COVID-19 Keep Me Informed initiative: As VA works to get COVID-19 vaccines to Veterans as quickly and safely as possible, the OCTO needed to develop a process to keep Veterans informed at every step. To support this initiative, the VEText team built an Application Program Interface (API) to transmit the submitted data to VHA to allow VA staff and facilities access to this information. VEText also developed a dashboard to track key metrics.
“Innovation I’m seeing more and more of at VA.”
Brice Green, 40, Florida Coast Guard Veteran, says, “I’ve trusted and relied on VEText in the past. I know it works because it provides me with the information I need. When it’s my time for the COVID vaccine, I’m ready again to receive a VEText message. This is exactly the kind of innovation that I’m seeing more and more of at VA. I believe most Veterans appreciate it.”
Every Veteran enrolled in VA health care with a cell phone number included in their health record is automatically enrolled in VEText. It is important for Veterans to ensure that the local VA medical center has current phone numbers so they can receive these updates and services if their facility is using them.
Veterans may update their phone numbers during check-in at their next appointment. Or they can use the self-service kiosks located throughout VA facilities.
Learn more about VEText at www.va.gov/HEALTH/VEText.asp.
Allison Amrhein is the director of operations for the VHA Innovators Network and communications lead for the VHA Innovation Ecosystem.