President Obama recently highlighted veterans’ health as a top priority, with the administration planning to make services easier to access as members of our military transition to veteran status. In order to accomplish this, one factor the government must consider is the different health service needs of veterans across the country.
Veterans living in rural areas are often challenged in terms of readily available access to health services. However, an array of online services, including the Virtual Lifetime Electronic Record (VLER) Health Program and Blue Button Download, can now improve healthcare for veterans across the country.
To further explain the topic is Creative Computing Solutions Inc.‘s (CCSi) Rich Mylod, who is also a veteran.
WashingtonExec: Can you describe the challenges the VA is currently facing in trying to provide services to veterans in rural areas?
Rich Mylod: Veterans living in rural areas comprise greater than 41 percent of all enrollees in the Dept. of Veteran Affairs (VA) healthcare system. However, there are a number of unique challenges involved in providing high-quality health care to rural veterans. These challenges include veterans’ geographic distribution, the availability of transportation to and from VA medical facilities, and access to the comprehensive medical care that these veterans require. Many of these veterans also face specific physical and mental health issues, including traumatic brain injury (TBI), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression and amputations. For these veterans, reliable and convenient access to health care is a service they both need and deserve.
While the VA has developed a number of resources designed to serve veterans across the country, awareness of the benefits of these tools is often limited.
Allowing veterans, especially those located in rural areas, to receive care from providers outside of VA’s health system, is an important step to improve overall veterans care. However, it is often difficult for providers to access veterans’ records and provide consistent care.
WashingtonExec: How is the VA utilizing technology to improve rural veterans’ care?
Rich Mylod: The VA’s Office of Information & Technology (OI&T) maintains IT systems at every VA care facility and develops innovative products to provide veterans with quicker, easier access to their health benefits. Some of the programs currently offered include Veterans Health Information Systems and Technology Architecture (VistA), eBenefits, MyHealtheVet, Blue Button, and mobile and telehealth initiatives.
CCSi is specifically involved in the MyHealtheVet and Blue Button programs. MyHealtheVet is the VA’s online personal health record that helps veterans partner with their health care team by providing opportunities and tools to make informed decisions and manage their health care.
The company played an instrumental role in the national rollout of both the original MyHealtheVet program and new functionality, with an emphasis on the integration of clinical adoption and business and clinical workflow processes.
CCSi also developed the Blue Button capability that allows veterans to download their personal health information from their My HealtheVet account. This helps individuals better manage their health and communicate with providers in both VA and non-VA facilities. For example, vets can create Continuity of Care Documents (CCDs) to share a summary of their VA health information with non-VA providers.
CCSi is currently leading efforts to provide Rural Health Community Coordinators (RHCC) to 56 designated rural VA Medical Centers (VAMCs) across the United States. The RHCCs serve as the main points of contacts (POCs) when interfacing with stakeholders supporting VA and with private sector providers interested in implementing veteran health data exchange in the Virtual Lifetime Electronic Record (VLER) Health Community. Additionally, RHCCs work with veterans to enable their access to Exchange, Direct and Blue Button Download systems, providing both on-site and remote training for veterans and VAMC clinicians on the benefits of these technologies.
The VA continues to expand its network of technology and services to veterans living in remote areas through contracts and partnerships with community-based providers and agencies.
WashingtonExec: Can you describe the benefits of the VLER Health and Blue Button programs for rural veterans?
Rich Mylod: The VLER Health program allows VA, non-VA health care providers, and veterans to securely share certain health information from a veteran’s EHR.
Allowing veterans, especially those located in rural areas, to receive care from providers outside of VA’s health system, is an important step to improve overall veterans care. However, it is often difficult for providers to access veterans’ records and provide consistent care. To address this challenge, the VLER program built an infrastructure for veterans to participate in health information exchange. This includes VLER Health Exchange, a query and retrieve methodology, VLER Health Direct secure messaging, a push methodology utilizing secure email, and Blue Button Download, an online tool that allows veterans to easily access, download and share personal health information.
Since 2010, the VA’s Blue Button Project has significantly improved the health care that veterans receive by empowering individuals to make better medical care decisions. This innovative program to put health data in the hands of patients has now spread to insurers and private health care organizations across the U.S.
WashingtonExec: How is the VA making these services available to rural vets?
Rich Mylod: Over the past decade, the VA has launched a number of initiatives and services to expand and ensure access to high-quality health care for rural veterans. These include some of the programs outlined above, including the VLER Health Exchange, Health Direct, and Blue Button.
In the past, one of the challenges rural veterans face is a lack of information about the resources available to them. Educating veterans on available health care services and empowering them to become more involved in their care will help them to appreciate the value of the VA’s health IT efforts. By providing on-site RHCCs in each of the 56 rural health VAMCs, CCSi is helping to connect veterans with the resources they need.
RHCCs will work with veterans to enable their access to Exchange, Direct and Blue Button Download systems, providing both on-site and remote training for veterans and VAMC clinicians. CCSi’s RHCCs will also coordinate and assist VAMC staff in working with My HealtheVet outreach staff.
To enable lasting change, we must make a commitment to empowering health for the nation’s veterans and providing them secure, efficient and effective access to their health and benefit services.