Commentary

VA takes major modernization step in central Ohio

The Trump administration has worked tirelessly over the last few years to modernize the way the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) delivers health care to veterans. In fact, despite the current COVID-19 pandemic, VA continues to deliver world-class health care and critical benefits for America’s veterans, families and caregivers.

Since March, VA is transforming how veterans access high-quality health care through innovative programs, including My HealtheVet, VA Mobile and VA Telehealth Services. Use of VA’s Video Connect tool saw a 1,000% increase in video visits directly to veterans homes during the COVID-19 pandemic. Monthly telehealth visits also saw an increase of more than 1,000% from January to June. The American Telemedicine Association recognized VA with its 2020 Champion Award for bringing health care access to veterans when and where they need it.

What’s even more exciting is VA is creating an electronic health record (EHR) that is fully integrated with the Defense Department (DOD) and tracks patients' health information from the day they enlist in the military and throughout their civilian life. This modern system will make it easier than ever before for doctors and nurses to quickly understand the health status of our veterans and spare veterans the inconvenience of lugging their paper records around.

Imagine a single interoperable solution across two of the largest federal agencies — VA and DoD — that will facilitate the secure transfer of active-duty service members' health data as they transition to veteran status. Health records residing in a common solution will eliminate the reliance on multiple complex clinical interfaces and manual data entry that often placed a burden on both patients and their health care providers. VA’s new EHR solution will provide clinicians with quick and efficient access to the complete picture of Veteran health information, improving VA’s delivery of health care to our nation’s veterans.

Furthermore, we have not let COVID slow us down in providing the best care for our veterans. In April, as part of our new electronic health record, we launched the joint health information exchange modernizing health data sharing capability among VA, DoD, and community providers. This means more than 2,000 hospitals, 8,800 pharmacies, 33,000 clinics, 1,100 labs, 800 federally qualified health centers, and 300 nursing homes throughout the country have access. Those numbers will continue to grow as more community providers are added to the exchange.

On Aug. 22, I had a front-row seat as we deployed the Centralized Scheduling Solution in Columbus, Ohio. Initial feedback from staff include “this is so much easier to use” and “there are fewer steps to checking in patients.” This key step in our modernization program will vastly improve the appointment management system at the VA Central Ohio Health Care System.

Now a veteran will be able to schedule, change, and cancel their appointments online at their own convenience. As you’d expect to see in 2020, VA staff does not have to manually make sure we can actually accept the appointment — the new system schedules a visit only after it automatically confirms whether staff, equipment and a room are all available.

This easier-to-use system is just a taste of the changes veterans will start seeing across the country beginning this year.

The creation of an electronic health record that integrates both VA and Defense Department data has been an elusive goal. Under the Trump administration, this monumental task is finally on the road to being completed.

By the fall, the unified health record will launch at the Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center in Spokane, Washington. This is a 10-year program of implementing this new system across 172 VA hospitals and more than 1,100 outpatient sites of care. Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, we have been training clinicians and staff on how to use our new, modernized health care record system, so they’re ready to immediately put it to work and make VA work more efficiently for veterans.

VA Secretary Robert Wilkie has made customer service his top priority since he took office in 2018 and the numbers show VA has delivered on that priority. Veterans' trust in VA reached an all-time high in April — up 19 points since President Trump took office.

Revolutionizing VA’s health records and appointment systems gets us even closer to the goal we’re all trying to reach giving veterans a modern, convenient system that they expect and deserve, and putting veterans at the center of their health care decisions.

Pamela J. Powers is acting deputy secretary of Veterans Affairs.

Editor’s note: This is an Op-Ed and as such, the opinions expressed are those of the author. If you would like to respond, or have an editorial of your own you would like to submit, please contact Military Times managing editor Howard Altman, haltman@militarytimes.com.

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