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VA Drives Plans for Patient Education, Experience Improvement

The VA will continue its efforts toward driving patient-centered care and patient education through a PTSD decision aid.

The VA has launched a PTSD decision aid to continue its efforts for better patient-centered care.

Source: Thinkstock

- The VA Health Administration implemented an online tool to drive patient education about post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and mental health treatment options.

The PTSD Treatment Decision Aid outlines different evidence-based treatments, provides information that will specifically help members of the military, and provides patient testimony about the benefits of different treatment options.

Offering multiple points of view about PTSD treatments will show veterans a comprehensive overview of their treatment options and eventually lead to better healthcare decisions, said VA Secretary David J Shulkin, MD. The goal is allowing veterans to make their own healthcare decisions and to put them in the driver’s seat.

“The health and well-being of the courageous men and women who have served their country in uniform is the VA’s highest priority,” Shulkin said in a statement.

“The PTSD Treatment Decision Aid is an important step in putting Veterans in control of their health care,” Shulkin added. “By helping to bridge understanding and communication between Veterans and providers about the most effective treatment options available, we are ensuring Veterans receive the treatments that best promote their healing and recovery.”

READ MORE: VA Deal Drives Patient Education on Mental Health Treatment

The tool also lets veterans build a chart of their preferred treatment options and to print it out to share with their providers. For security purposes, the tool erases patient information after he or she logs out.

Offering quality PTSD treatment is vital at the VA. About 8 percent of all patients will experience PTSD in their lifetimes, but that number is exacerbated in veterans who have experienced hardships during their service. In total, the VA treats about 620,000 veterans for PTSD.

Ensuring that the agency offers multiple different PTSD treatments – and making sure patients understand which protocol will be right for them – is key to supporting this vulnerable population, said VA Acting Under Secretary for Health Poonam Alaigh, MD.

“We know from research and our own clinical experience that Veterans can recover and improve their quality of life with the right PTSD treatment plan,” Alaigh said. “We want our Veterans and those who care for them to have access to effective treatment options. Knowing about the latest research can help them get the best care possible.”

Presenting a better patient experience and more patient-centered healthcare is a part of the VA’s strategic vision going forward. In Shulkin’s “State of the VA” address late last month, the agency Secretary reviewed the progress the VA has made in improving patient care and the direction the agency plans to continue.

READ MORE: VA Launches Center for Patient-Centered Healthcare Innovation

While the VA made commitments to improve patient care as recently as last year, Shulkin maintained that the agency still has great strides to make before he can deem the VA healthy.

“As a physician, I tend to look at things in terms of the way I was trained — assess, diagnose and then aggressively treat the patient,” Shulkin said in the address. “Though we are taking immediate and decisive steps, we are still in critical condition and require intensive care.”

During the address, Shulkin touched on some of the progress the agency has made. The VA has implemented same-day health services in all of its 168 medical centers, offering better treatment access for veterans.

The VA sees over 22 percent of veterans on the same day as patients request an appointment, Shulkin reported. The agency is also the only medical system in the country that publicly posts its wait time data online.

While only 10 percent of community-based clinics offer same-day appointment access, Shulkin plans for that number to reach 100 percent by next year.

READ MORE: The 3 Building Blocks Supporting Patient Engagement Strategies

The VA has also received ample feedback about the pitfalls of the Veterans Choice program and how patients can access third-party healthcare in the face of extraordinary treatment barriers.

In March, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) published a report stating that patients participating in Choice wait up to 81 days for a third-party appointment, far exceeding the agency’s 30-day goal wait time. This exceptionally long wait time is the result of a convoluted scheduling process, GAO found.

The agency also faced the Veterans Choice program expiration, originally slated for August 2017. After testimony from both VA officials and other policymakers, Congress voted to extend the program and allow it to work out its kinks.

The VA plans to overhaul the Veterans Choice scheduling process in response to both the program extension and the GAO report. The agency will streamline how veterans utilize the program by increasing the number of third-party facilities available to patients.

The agency will also add more DoD health facilities to the Choice program. Only three DoD facilities currently participate in Choice, but Shulkin contends that veterans should be able to access any DoD healthcare center.

Shulkin will also be using the VA quality star ratings to make individual facility improvements, he reported in his address.

The agency has already identified the 14 facilities that have scored only a one-star rating, which is below the acceptable quality of care for any patient. The agency is working to improve those facilities first by enlisting expert teams to implement performance improvement plans.

Through these efforts, Shulkin wants to make a health system that is on par or better than anything offered to veterans across the country.

Ultimately, Shulkin aims to “turn the VA into the organization Veterans and their families deserve, and one that America can take pride in,” he concluded.