Tech Rules at VA
Veterans Administration medical centers are really wired — and that isn’t a comment on their coffee consumption.
Hospitals & Health Networks named VA centers in their “2013 Most Wired Hospitals” report, the results of a survey done with the help of the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME), the American Hospital Association (AHA) and medical/pharmaceutical distributor the McKesson Corporation. The survey compiled information from 1,713 US hospitals and health systems about information technology initiatives.
The magazine’s “Most Wired” story, written by Matthew Weinstock, explained that the hospitals named had “technologies that improve patient documentation, advance clinical decision support and evidence-based protocols, reduce the likelihood of medication errors, and rapidly restore access to data in the case of a disaster or outage.” According to the magazine, “In the march to bring care to the patient, rather than the patient to the care, the Veterans Health Administration is leading the charge.”
Recent technological innovations at the VA include mobile apps for veterans’ tablets and cell phones, digitized medical records, and “telemedicine.”
The VA mobile apps address health issues that include sleep difficulty, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and psychological first aid (PFA). Another VA app helps vets to quit smoking.
According to Gail L. Graham, Assistant Deputy Undersecretary of Health for Informatics and Analytics, “At VA, it’s now an option to get health care information from an iPad.”
Computers also assist the VA in keeping in touch with the widely scattered veterans community — more than a third of US veterans live in rural areas, some hundreds of miles from the nearest VA medical center. A program called MyhealtheVet helps patients track their health data, lab work, appointments, and prescriptions. Instead of calling and leaving a message for their primary care physicians, patients can email their doctors about any of their health concerns, knowing that the messages are secure.
“It’s a tool I use myself,” said Tommy Sowers, Assistant Secretary for Public and Intergovernmental Affairs at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, “and the ease of its utility has made me more conscious of the things I should discuss with my doctor.”
Perhaps the most technological feats of all are in the area of “telehealth.” In remote areas like rural Alaska, clinics have been established with sophisticated computer systems that can deploy stethoscopes, ultrasound machines and blood pressure cuffs, relaying the results to medical personnel miles away. When just getting to a clinic is daunting due to long distances or extreme geography, telemedicine stations have been set up in veterans’ homes.
The tech revolution at VA is an ongoing process, according to Sowers, who recently outlined future innovations to Sen. Bernie Sanders, chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.
“Adapt and overcome — when you’re in the military, that mantra is drilled into you,” Sowers said. “That’s also the mindset behind a technology revolution inside VA.”