NATIONAL HARBOR, MD–The US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is in the midst of a significant change in the way it will deliver care to veterans. Agency officials remain optimistic that the change will be for the better, and early indications are positive.
The change is being driven by the VA Maintaining Internal Systems and Strengthening Integrated Outside Networks (Mission) Act of 2018, a bill that opens health services options for veterans and integrates VA-administered care and care from community-based providers.
“This is change that is enhancing their experience in the system, and this is enhancing their options and the quality of the options in the system,” Jennifer MacDonald, MD, chief consultant to the principal deputy undersecretary for health at the VA, said during a December 3 session at the AMSUS 2019 annual meeting. “We need also for our workforce to understand how important they are to us across this degree of change.”
Dr. MacDonald highlighted integration with community-based care, including a community urgent care provision that allows veterans to access urgent care facilities and receive care without the need for prior authorization.
“The important piece about that is that we are also looking at the way this care has been accessed,” she said. “By and large, what we have seen from the data is that veterans are indeed seeking community urgent care at a site close to home. This may be CVS or Walgreens. It may be a stand-alone urgent care with a bit more functionality than those Minute Clinics tend to have. We are seeing veterans typically access care through those sites for those minor concerns and illnesses.”
However, she noted that this type of access does not alter the role the VA plays in administration of health care services.
“We are seeing them come back to VA for the majority of their care and for their core care–when there are serious issues, when insulin needs to be adjusted for diabetes, when there are heart disease medications that need to be refilled–we are seeing veterans not seek out urgent care, but come to us, and that is exactly what we want,” she said. “We want the continuity of care to continue and we want to help guide people to the right care, right place, right time.”
Dr. MacDonald also highlighted the expansion of a program that provides a stipend to caregivers that allows veterans to avoid institutionalization and remain within the community under that caregiver’s (a family or friend) supervision. This will expand by year’s end to Vietnam War-era veterans and within 2 years, to veterans that fall between the Vietnam War-era and the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
“We wanted to do this equitably across all eras of veterans,” she said. “This now gives us that opportunity.”
Telehealth also plays a key role.
“For the first time ever, VA now has what we term ‘anywhere-to-anywhere’ telehealth under the Mission Act, an enormous opportunity for us,” she said. “Since we stretch … from New York City to Guam, we need the opportunity to provide care where it may be difficult to recruit and retain providers wherever veterans choose to live,” she said. “We believe that we should be able to meet people where they are regardless of where they choose to live. That’s an aspirational vision, but it is one we believe is exceptionally important and indeed we are moving toward that.”