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VA Launches Patient Access to Care Outreach Program for Vets

The VA will launch its Concierge for Care program, a patient outreach initiative set to improve patient access to care.

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Source: Thinkstock

By Sara Heath

- Many newly-discharged military personnel are unaware of the healthcare benefits the VA provides, limiting patient access to care. That is poised to change, as the VA launched its Concierge for Care program, a patient education initiative geared toward better patient outreach for care.

One-third of veterans not enrolled in VA healthcare are not because they are ill-informed of the benefits the agency offers them, said VA Secretary David J. Shulkin citing 2010 statistics.

 “Our goal is to give transitioning service members one less thing to worry about,” Shulkin said in a statement. “We know that more than a third of Veterans who haven’t yet visited our facilities indicated they are not aware of VA health care benefits, while a quarter reported they do not know how to apply.”

This program should not be confused with concierge medicine, an emerging patient care model that requires patients to pay a monthly fee for doctor’s visits.

Instead, the Concierge for Care program is an overhauled patient outreach program that will help newly-discharged veterans learn more about their care options through the VA.

A VA staff member will directly reach out to a new veteran. Through this patent outreach, the VA hopes to answer questions, process health enrollment application materials, and even schedule the veteran’s first VA medical appointment. All of this will take place over the phone, the agency explained.

The VA receives a list of newly discharged, or “separating,” service members from the Department of Defense. The agency aims to reach these patients within one month of receiving an individual list. The agency has not yet disclosed logistical details for accomplishing that goal.

The VA has been wrestling with patient care access issues for some time. Between long wait times and logistical hiccups with the Veterans Choice Program, veterans have struggled to receive timely treatment from the agency.

In September 2017, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported that veterans may struggle to access VA care because of insufficient patient onboarding processes. At the time of the report, the VA exceeded the 5-day maximum wait period for enrollment to the VA.

“To receive care, most veterans must be deemed eligible by VHA through an assessment of military service and financial need, and enrolled in the VHA health care system,” the report said. “Enrollment is generally the first step veterans take when accessing VHA care, thus timely and accurate processing of veterans’ enrollment applications is critical to helping ensure that eligible veterans obtain needed health care.”

The demand for VHA coverage is currently growing, the GAO report noted. Enrollment increased from 7.9 million veterans in 2006 to 9 million veterans in 2016. This has fueled concerns about the VA’s ability to onboard patients in need of health benefits, specifically in the VHA’s Health Eligibility Center (HEC) and VA medical centers (VAMCs).

Per the GAO report, HEC had not yet issued any guidance to VAMCs related to patient enrollment.

It is not yet clear whether VA has created a more streamlined process for enrolling VA patients, or how it will manage a potential influx of enrollment applications following the launch of the Concierge for Care program.

VA has had some successful efforts for improving veteran access to care, primarily involving third-party providers. VA partnerships with retail health providers like CVS Health and the CVS Health Foundation have promoted better access to both primary and mental health care.

VA partnerships with third-party providers have also supported family caregiver engagement. Family caregivers play an important role in supporting patient health outside of the hospital or physician office.

Going forward, VA must clearly outline its plans for supporting better care access and patient enrollment within its own system. While the Concierge for Care program may present a possible solution for creating patient education about VA benefits, the agency must identify tangible strategies for supporting patients.

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