Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Reaching Out to Veterans

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) created the “Office of Patient Centered Care and Cultural Transformation” to develop personal, patient-centered models of care for veterans. According to the office’s Director, Dr. Tracy Williams Gaudet, the office is in place to discover and demonstrate new models of care, analyze the results of that care, and then create strategies to allow for their translation and implementation across the VA.

The VA is also developing new ways to reach extremely rural communities and in involved in a partnership between the VA and the Indian Health Services to develop new models of health IT. The partnership will use telehealth services such as telepsychiatry and telepharmacy, mobile communication technologies, and enhanced telecommunications.

To address the needs of rural veterans living in VISN 20 that obtain their healthcare through the VA Roseburg Health Care System (VARHS) located in Roseburg Oregon, a recent draft study was done to find ways to reach out and improve services across VARHS.

One of the strategies recommended was to expand services in this primarily rural area by using more telemedicine services such as home-based monitoring, patient self-testing, remote imaging, and real time consultations.

According to the study, integrating information and communication technologies would enable patients to get care closer to their homes and employees would increase their knowledge and retain marketable telemedicine skills. The use of these services could serve as a model for care delivery in rural settings across the VA’s healthcare system.

In another effort, the VA is currently reaching out to younger veterans through the use of social media including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, and blogs. Currently, the 18-34 year age group still accounts for more than half of the users on the site but older veterans are beginning see the benefits of using social media. In addition, The VA is also going to launch an online communications hub to feature a central VA blog, topical blogs, and a section for guest pieces submitted by VA staff and the public.

The VA is also reaching out to help veterans that are having problems with not only benefit claims but also a number of other veteran issues. A new system called “Executive Contact Management System (ExecVA), cross-cuts throughout the VA. The system can handle calls from veterans from anywhere and has the capability to track the issue until it is resolved.

For example, if a veteran calls in complaining about the treatment he has received at a VA medical center, The veteran’s information and specific complaints are entered into ExecVA and assigned to the VHA where the problem will be addressed. Some issues may require more action by more than one VA employee to resolve a problem especially if the problem is complex.

“ExecVA cross cuts through all business lines throughout the VA,” said Debi Bevins, Director of Client Relations in the Office of the Secretary. “The system will track the problem or issue until it is resolved.” When a call comes in, the agency enters the information into the system and works to resolve the problem by tracking the issue, assigning tasks, and providing periodic reminders until all tasks related to the issue are complete.