The Department of Veterans Affairs is turning iPad technology into a potent tool to help caregivers track medical care for veterans that could become the road map for how to provide mobile services across the federal government.
The iPad pilot goes live Sept. 1 with a plan to loan 1,000 Apple Inc.’s iPads to caregivers keeping watch over medical needs for veterans injured while serving after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
It’s an ambitious plan as the Mobile Health environment is rapidly becoming the next game changer for providing health care. And the VA is leading the way as one of the largest health care providers in the U.S. researching ways to use mobile tools to deliver better services.
How it works: The iPads are equipped with a suite of mobile apps to support family caregivers, a program for caregivers of seriously injured veterans that began in 2001. It is being distributed to 1,000 caregivers as part of the program to keep track of a veteran’s medical conditions, medicines, needs and caregiver support.
But the project could be extended to a much bigger population – 6 million veterans if the pilot succeeds, and it could become the textbook for federal agencies introducing any kind of iPad-driven initiative.
“This project has great potential to accelerate the Federal market for mobile apps, and the pilot is being used to make sure we understand the benefits, usage and impact of the Apps,” said Kathleen Frisbee, Director of Web and Mobile Solutions in the Veterans Health Administration’s Office of Informatics and Analytics. She’s led the VA’s mobile health initiative since October 2011 when the VA got to work developing the pilot.
The VA’s Mobile Health efforts are in line with President Obama’s Digital Government Strategy directing all government agencies to make at least two of their “priority customer-facing services” available on mobile devices within the next 12 months, she added.
“We have a very sound approach to move this forward,” she told Breaking Gov. “We do a small pilot so we can learn incrementally. We’re involving our users in the creation of the Apps. Caregivers have been involved since Day One, developing designs and testing the usability of the Apps.”
The iPad is part of “a series of steps the VA is taking as there are more powerful flexible types of devices out there to do more kinds of things,” said Gary Christopherson, Chief Information Officer, Veterans Health Administration (July 2000 – January 2005).
“The nice thing about any of these tools is that they are popular. They get people juiced,” he added.
The VA hired Agliex, the Chantilly, Va.-based contractor that provides technology solutions for many federal agencies. The $5 million contract designed four secure VA Apps that will protect the veterans’ health information. The project, which includes the price of the iPads, does not cost the caregiver or veteran a dime. The Apps include:
- Clinical information from their VA Electronic Medical Record (EMR)
- Disease Management Support and Electronic Coaching
- Support for caregivers such as training, coaching and meditation
- Assistance in the management & coordination of care.
The Apps display lab, vitals and radiology results. They also display information on appointments, procedures allergies, for example.
The apps have patient self-entered data tools for tracking such regular medical conditions as blood pressure, weight and diet tools as well as an ability to track PTSD symptoms and pain management.
In addition, the VA apps also have tools for medication refills, secure messaging via My HealtheVet, VA push notifications, appointment integration into iPad personal calendar, and electronic journaling.
“The Apps are designed to increase the convenience and accessibility of VA healthcare and strengthen communication among Veterans, Family Caregivers, and clinicians,” Frisbee said.”They do this by supporting a range of healthcare management functions including facilitating day-to-day administrative tasks, providing education and expanding communications with VA healthcare teams.”
To help find participants, VA is sending an invitation letter to all primary Family Caregivers enrolled in VA’s Family Caregiver program and then pilot participants will be randomly selected from eligible respondents, Frisbee said.
Personal health data is not stored on the mobile devices. It is sent to the VA’s secure clinical information systems to be evaluated by clinicians. A decision was made by VA not to persist PHI/PII data on the iPad until the FIPS140-2 certification is achieved, Frisbee added.
Here are Frisbee’s tips for agencies to using iPads and apps for their mission:
- Begin with pilots. Pilots allow an organization to learn effectively.
- Co-create Apps with your users.
- Evaluate Apps to assess effectiveness.
- Be sure apps are designed as part of an overarching e-technology framework to ensure a seamless experience for your users.
“Throughout the development process we have relied on the real time feedback from both veterans and their caregivers to ensure that we are creating tools that will help make their lives a little easier,” Frisbee said.