By Kathleen Frisbee, Executive Director, Connected Health, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
With the proliferation of smart devices, it’s no surprise that Veterans have begun to turn to consumer products and apps to help monitor their own health using their cellphones and other personal devices such as Fitbits, Apple Watches, and more. The good news is that it provides people with a wealth of data to help manage their health. The not-so-good news is that this personal health data (also known as patient-generated data) often doesn’t make it to their care providers, who could partner with them to improve their health.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Office of Connected Care is laser-focused on improving health care through technology as we see a significant opportunity to integrate patient-generated data with the care plans offered by VA health care teams. The information that Veterans gather about their own health habits can be a key tool that providers can use to improve Veterans’ health outcomes, potentially detect health risks sooner and, ultimately, help change the direction of increasing health care costs.
Recently, we’ve been blending VA telehealth technology with patient-generated health data through our Apple Watch pilot program. A group of Veterans at James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital in Tampa, Florida, have each received an Apple Watch that can conduct an electrocardiogram (EKG) — a test that monitors the heart’s electrical signal — and save the results in a format that makes them shareable with the Veteran’s VA care team.
This electronic transfer of information often saves Veterans from having to drive to in-person appointments at the VA Medical Center. Once a Veteran is able to transfer the EKG results to the Health app on their iOS device, they can then share it with their provider through one of two VA innovations: during a VA Video Connect appointment, or through Secure Messaging on My HealtheVet, VA’s online patient portal.
In addition to Apple Watches, VA is gathering data from other types of Connected Devices including FitBits and Glucometers. OCC has developed a mobile app called “Sync-My-Health-Data” (SMHD), which allows a Veteran to pair their device with the SMHD app so that the data can flow into VA’s Patient Generated Database for analysis. OCC is conducting an analysis of this data, coupled with data from VA’s Electronic Health Record and Socioeconomic data for two clinical cohorts – Diabetes and Sleep/Stress. The insights generated from this analysis will be presented back to VA providers and patients.
VA is also innovating in the field of self-care with our Annie app. Named after Lt. Annie G. Fox, the first woman to receive the Purple Heart for combat, Annie is a text messaging platform that promotes self-care for Veterans enrolled in VA health care.
Here’s how it works: When a patient is enrolled in a clinical protocol, such as medication management, the Annie app can be programmed to send personalized, automated text messages to the patient to remind them to take their medications. Annie can also receive text messages from patients. For example, patients who are enrolled in hypertension management can send their blood pressure readings to their clinical care team via a text message.
VA has had over 6,000 patients use Annie for multiple clinical conditions, and the number is steadily growing. And excitement among VA providers about Annie is growing too. Annie lets providers review patient data at any time prior to the patient’s visit, enabling them to proactively adjust the plan of care if necessary.
“VA providers should be wholeheartedly enthusiastic about using Annie. It allows us to reach our patients in ways we couldn’t previously and ultimately improve health outcomes,” said Dr. Lynn Kataria, Chief of Neurology Education Washington, D.C. VA Medical Center in a VA testimonial.
VA’s Office of Connected Care has made significant strides in telehealth and mobile health technologies and the future looks even more promising as we continue to lead from the cutting edge by expanding our capabilities through these efforts and others. Most importantly, our use of patient-generated data to influence major improvements in our Veterans’ health care cannot be overemphasized. To learn more about how the VA Office of Connected Care is using mobile health technology to enhance Veteran care, visit https://connectedcare.va.gov/.