Stories of Service: Trio of VA doctors fights COVID-19 with virtual health tools
Within the Veterans Health Administration is a three-person team leading the way in what they call “connected care” – increasing the accessibility, capacity, quality and experience of health care for veterans. It’s especially critical during the COVID-19 pandemic, as more health care providers nationwide look to the VA as the North Star for implementing their own telehealth programs. The trio consists of Kathleen Frisbee, whose Ph.D. is in systems engineering, and Kevin Galpin and Neil Evans, both medical doctors.
COVID-19 pandemic leads to telehealth surge
Shortly after the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the trio recognized they had to quickly pivot the VA’s Office of Connected Care to help contain the virus and get care to those who needed it, while also keeping providers, patients and their families safe. It meant using digital technologies to extend health care access beyond the traditional office visit.
“Since the outbreak, we have seen an explosion of video care,” Galpin said. Last year, the VA provided just under 300,000 video visits to veterans in their homes. In the past month alone, the VA delivered nearly 400,000. In March and April, daily video visits to veterans’ homes increased from about 2,000 to 20,000 per day.
One VA program, called ANNIE, is an app that sends patients automated text messages to help them stay focused on their self-care. A recent survey indicated 76% of respondents found the ANNIE app to be “very helpful” in supporting them during the pandemic. The majority of respondents said they felt it gave them better access to VA health care.
Telehealth is the future, and the VA is leading the way
“Telehealth is having its moment,” Evans said. “Because of COVID-19, there is now a much broader understanding within the American health care system about the importance of telehealth.” The VA is engaging with other health care providers across the country regarding lessons it has learned, he added. “We’re always willing to share.”
Remote heath care delivery will be the new normal, the trio agreed. “The surge in telehealth during the pandemic will establish a new utilization baseline for virtual care services because of increased provider and patient exposure,” Galpin said. According to Frisbee, older populations are increasingly embracing technology—through tablets and phone apps, for instance.
Evans said he is motivated by seeing how the connected care program has improved the health care experience not just for his own patients and colleagues, but also for veterans and clinicians throughout the VA health care system. “When we increase the scale and impact of this program, we’re delivering better care for veterans, helping them live healthier lives.”
Galpin wants the VA to be the most accessible and highest-quality health care system anywhere, he said, a vision that could be realized, in part, through VA’s expansive use of telehealth. “I want to see that for our veterans, and I want to see that as a model for health care everywhere.”
Neil Evans, Kathleen Frisbee, and Kevin Galpin are finalists for the 2020 Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medal for management excellence. Read more about their work on the Sammies website.
For more information on the Connected Care program, visit the VA’s Connected Care website.
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Neil C. Evans, M.D., is the Chief Officer for the Office of Connected Care in the Veterans Health Administration. He is board-certified in both Internal Medicine and Clinical Informatics. In addition to his executive leadership role in clinical informatics within VHA, Dr. Evans is an active clinician, managing a panel of patients in the primary care clinic at the Washington, D.C. Veterans Affairs Medical Center.
Kathleen L. Frisbee, Ph.D., MPH is the Director of Connected Health, aligned under the Office of Connected Care in the Veterans Health Administration. Frisbee is part of a leadership team charged with the effort to improve services to veterans, their families and caregivers by increasing access, fostering continuity and promoting patient empowerment through electronic health technologies.
Dr. Kevin Galpin, M.D., is the Executive Director of VA Telehealth Services aligned under the Office of Connected Care. He is responsible for overseeing the implementation and coordination of telehealth technologies throughout VA. Dr. Galpin is a physician, board certified in Internal Medicine and Clinical Informatics.