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VA iPad pilot empowers veterans, caregivers

Apr. 10, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
Medical Ipads
Dr. Neil Evans, a Primary Care Internist, goes over records from a recent check-up with his patient, Renaldo Cade. (James J. Lee/Military Times Staf)

Last May, the Veterans Affairs Department began rolling out hundreds of Apple iPads to caregivers of seriously injured post-9/11 vets.

Loaded onto the 879 tablet computers were nearly a dozen apps for vets and their caregivers, including some that securely accessed personal health care data and electronically refilled prescriptions. Other apps allowed patients to journal and track vital signs and moods.

More than halfway into the yearlong Mobile Health Family Caregiver Pilot, VA is now collecting preliminary data on those recipients, patient satisfaction and how often they used the technology. The ultimate goal is to expand the apps for wider use across VA’s veteran and caregiver population.

VA has identified three Web-based versions of its applications that will be released to the public in two to three months, including the Summary of Care app. Today, the app is only available to pilot users on their iPads, but it will be expanded for use on other devices via commercial or internal VA app stores. The app provides a view of veterans’ VA medical information, including lab results, medications, allergies and hospital discharge notes.

The pilot is expected to wrap up mid-summer but was extended because some users were unable to access the app after updating software on their devices. VA will compare the number of hospitalizations and usage of various health care resources before and after caregivers received the iPads to help determine how the technology impacted patient care.

“This is as much about the experience of care and keeping open lines of communication as it is about hard outcomes,” said Dr. Neil Evans, associate chief of staff for informatics at the Washington DC VA Medical Center. “Health care is about a meaningful relationship between a health care team ... and a patient and their family and their community.”

So far, here’s some of what VA knows about its iPad users:

■ Nearly three quarters of iPad recipients have used the apps on the device.

■ The most commonly used app is Summary of Care, which gives vets access to their electronic health record information.

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■ If caregivers are spouses of the veterans, they are more likely to use the apps.

■ If vets live in rural locations or have mental health diagnoses, the caregivers or veterans are more likely to use the apps.

“The incentive to try to resolve problems remotely when you live in a rural area is higher,” said Evans, who also serves as co-director for connected health at the Veterans Health Administration.

Caregivers are also able to use tablets to boost productivity in their personal lives, whether its checking emails while waiting for a doctor’s visit or doing online banking, said Brian Olinger, who assists with the development, deployment and evaluation of VA-developed mobile apps for veterans and health care providers.

VA had initially planned to roll out some 1,000 iPads under its pilot program, formerly known as Clinic-in-Hand, but ran into some challenges early on. One challenge was getting authentication credentials for caregivers to log on to the device. Some caregivers did not speak English and were not able to read data in the apps and others could not commit to the follow-up required for VA to gather feedback about their usage habits.

For now, patient-provided data from the apps are being stored by the VA but not merged with patient records created by the department, said Brian Olinger, who assists with the development, deployment and evaluation of VA-developed mobile apps for veterans and health care providers.

“For this pilot and other testing activities we are figuring out the best way to collect and standardize data with VA data” and how best to present and label that data for health care providers, Olinger said.■

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