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VA Boosts Patient Access to Care, Engagement Strategies

The Department of Veteran's Affairs is boosting patient access to care through its MyVA initiative, ultimately looking to implement same-day appointments.

By Sara Heath

- The Department of Veteran’s Affairs (VA) is boosting veteran’s access to care by improving its patient engagement strategies, according to David J. Shulkin, MD, VA’s undersecretary for health.

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During the Association for Healthcare Journalists conference this week, Shulkin discussed the steps the agency is taking to provide more patient-centered care, including implementing their MyVA Access.

An agency-wide call to action, MyVA Access advocates for better healthcare delivery to all veterans and a commitment by providers to ensure that care is delivered as soon as possible. Specifically, MyVA Access includes goals of providing same-day access to healthcare and primary care access whenever a veteran needs it.

“MyVA Access is a declaration from VHA employees to the Veterans they care for; it is a call to action and the reaffirmation of the core mission to provide quality care to Veterans, and to offer that care as soon as possible to Veterans how and where they desire to receive that care,” says a VA public statement. “The initiative ensures that the entire VA health care system is engaged in the transformation of VA into a Veteran-centered service organization.”

As of right now, 34 VA medical facilities offer same-day appointments, and the agency hopes to expand those offerings later in 2016.

Shulkin also introduced a new app to the VA, called the Veteran Appointment Request app. This app allows veterans view, schedule, cancel, and check the status of mental healthcare appointments, and is available at 10 locations. VA plans on implementing that app at all VA medical facilities by 2017.

Ultimately, these efforts are geared to regaining the trust of the veterans the agency serves. By improving access to care and patient engagement, VA hopes to better serve its client base and improve the overall health of the nation’s veterans.

“We are working to rebuild the trust of the American public and more importantly the trust of the Veterans whom we are proud to serve,” said Dr. Shulkin. “We are taking action and are seeing the results. We are serious about our work to improve access to health care for our nation’s Veterans. We want them to know that this is a new VA.”

The efforts are paying off. Between March 2015 and February 2016, VA held 57.36 million healthcare appointments, 1.6 million more than the year previous. The agency also increased veteran’s access to private healthcare and opened more clinical, mental health, and long-term care facilities.

VA also reports higher volumes of access to care throughout this year, concentrating care on the most critical patient cases.

  • VA held two Access Stand Downs, focusing on patients with the most urgent health care needs first. During a nationwide Access Stand Down that took place on February 27, the one-day event resulted in VA reviewing the records of more than 80,000 Veterans to get those waiting for urgent care off wait lists; 93 percent of Veterans waiting for urgent care were contacted, with many receiving earlier appointments.
  • VA increased its total clinical work (direct patient care) by 10 percent over the last two years as measured by private sector standards (relative value units). This increase translates to roughly 20 million additional provider hours of care for our Veterans.
  • VA is also working to increase clinical staff, add space and locations in areas where demand is increasing and extending clinic hours into nights and weekends, all of which have helped increase access to care even as demand for services increases.

This announcement comes after the Military Health System (MHS) signed a $140 million deal with McKesson Technologies, Inc., for its RelayHealth patient portal.

The patient portal, which will be used to enhance patient engagement through secure messaging capabilities and patient access to health data, will serve MHS’s physicians, physicians assistants, nurse case managers, physical and occupational therapists, dentists, and other healthcare providers. The portal will not require subscription purchase from providers or patients.

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