For more than a decade, the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center has led the way in bringing virtual care into mainstream medicine.
That same technology is being used more broadly than ever to maintain the high-quality care and access to care Veteran patients deserve while keeping them as safe as possible at home during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.
“Virtual Care is an incredibly important tool for us during the COVID outbreak,” said Charleston VA Chief of Primary Care Christopher D. Blasy, M.D. “It is an effective tool for us to provide care to our Veterans while providing a measure of safety both for the Veteran and the staff. All of us are concerned about real and potential exposure to the virus and these platforms allow us to maintain social distancing.”
When the Charleston VA first began using telehealth, Veterans had to come to a VA clinic near them to have a virtual visit with their provider. But today that has all changed, explained Charleston VA Associate Chief of Staff for Mental Health Donald “Hugh” Myrick, M.D. who led the charge to establish VA’s first Tele-Mental Health Hub here.
“Our mental health staff have been leaders in pushing virtual care into the mainstream for over a decade,” said Myrick. His Mental Health team provided more Tele-Mental Health episodes of care than any other VA in the U.S. in fiscal year 2019 – a total of 44,120 visits – and has led VA’s efforts to expand in-home virtual Tele-Mental Health care.
“The current pandemic has brought increased awareness to what we can offer our Veterans that does not require them to travel to a facility,” Myrick added. “We can provide safe and effective individual appointments and group therapies to our Veterans directly to their computers, laptops or cell phones!”
Blasy, who transitioned six VA primary care outpatient clinics along the South Carolina and Georgia coast from mostly traditional face-to-face visits to virtual almost overnight in response to COVID-19, agrees.
“So far, the staff and Veterans find the communication to be easy to access and complete visits,” he said. “While we have our traditional VA platforms, utilization of commercial products makes it seamless to those who might otherwise have limited access.”
Veterans who need to be seen in person or who have urgent needs are being seen in person at the downtown VA medical center and at VA outpatient clinics. VA doctors and medical teams are reviewing each appointment to determine if the Veteran needs to be seen in person or if a virtual visit is clinically appropriate.
“While we certainly look forward to getting back to face-to-face visits, this outbreak is really giving us the opportunity to expand our methods for delivering effective health care,” Blasy said.
To help us address our Veterans’ most-urgent needs first, the Ralph H. Johnson VA asks that Veterans use our online tools for routine or non-urgent questions. Veterans who have an urgent need to be seen, or have symptoms such as fever, cough and shortness of breath should call 843-789-6400 or 1-888-878-6884.
Here are some examples of VA’s online tools:
- Telephone or Video Appointments – Veterans can receive care at home — either over the phone or via video using VA Video Connect on their computers, smartphones, or tablets. To set up telephone or video appointments, Veterans can send their provider a secure message on My HealtheVet by visiting myhealth.va.gov. To learn more about VA Video Connect, visit mobile.va.gov/app/va-video-connect.
- Prescription Refills – Veterans can request prescription refills and order and ship medications to their homes using My HealtheVet or the Rx Refill mobile app. Download the app at mobile.va.gov/app/rx-refill.
- Text Message Reminders – Veterans can use Annie’s Coronavirus Precautions protocol to send automated text messages with information about COVID-19. This application helps Veterans monitor for symptoms and can assist if they need to contact their VA facility for care. Enroll at mobile.va.gov/annie.
- Secure Messaging – With My HealtheVet, VA’s online patient portal, Veterans can send online secure messages to your VA health care team to ask them nonurgent health questions. Register at www.myhealth.va.gov.
For more information about VA’s Connected Care technologies, visit connectedcare.va.gov.