Alone in his rural home, and hours from the closest VHA clinic, a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom fixates on the kitchen ceiling fan. An all-too-familiar anxiety envelops him. He picks up his smart phone and accesses the free Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Coach app he had downloaded from the VA Mobile App Store. He takes a quick self-assessment—his score is higher than recent episodes. So he clicks on the Journal feature and begins to type what he’s thinking and feeling. The app scans his journal entry for key words that describe the symptoms. It then responds with a series of tips to help him bring his emotions under control. The vet tries the deep-breathing techniques first, then tries others, prompted by the app, until he finds something that works. Feeling more in control, he bypasses the app’s panic button that would have connected him to a counselor live on the phone.
A month later, a VHA physician is preparing for the same veteran’s scheduled visit. He opens the PTSD Coach app and pulls down the patient’s profile. The journal entries and trends tell him which interventions have proved most effective. The physician is well-prepared, and the vet takes home a customized treatment regimen based on his experiences.
This is the vision—and the emerging reality—of continuous care. In just 2 years, VHA Connected Health has completed two mobile health pilot programs, established the VA Mobile App store, and successfully launched new apps—Mobile Blue Button, Summary of Care and Launchpad—with numerous other transformative apps in the pipeline for 2015.
But the program’s real value will be measured by how well it transforms the way patients and providers experience healthcare. Already, growing numbers of veterans are turning to mobile devices and sophisticated sensors to manage their health. And by transmitting their personal data to the VHA, they’re making the healthcare they receive more connected, continuous, and personal. Providers can now see a broader picture about who patients are, what makes them happy, and what motivates them to improve their health.
“If you look at the size of our industry, and the money we spend, it’s surprising to see how far healthcare still lags behind other industries in using data to understand customers, motivate behaviors, and speed up transactions,” says Dr. Evans. “It’s really exciting to see the momentum building within the VHA for mobile technology. We’re getting the information flowing between patients and providers so they can work together toward shared goals.”