You have to hand it to the VA


I’m not saying the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is perfect in the way it provides patient care and federal benefits to veterans and their dependents.

Do a Google News Search for Veterans Affairs (or its former name, Veterans Administration) and you’ll find stories about a huge backlog in disability claims and, just today, a story about seven veterans who are accused of dealing drugs to patients being treated at its facilities, some of them for addiction issues.

But it does a lot of things right.

For example, I’ve long admired the VA’s use of health informatics, disease management and telehealth technologies to improve and extend access to care.

Today, in a story in Pharmacy Practice News about how comprehensive discharge plans help to reduce hospital readmissions for COPD patients (a story that also quoted Invacare’s Joe Lewarski, by the way), I learned about this little gem:

One pilot program being tested by his VA system to improve patient health and reduce readmissions is shared medical appointments for veterans with diabetes. Six to eight patients with diabetes and a high risk for cardiovascular complications are brought in for quarterly outpatient appointments with a nurse educator, a health psychologist, a dietitian, a physician and a clinical pharmacist with prescriptive authority. Patients receive joint education but individual medication management by the pharmacist. The VA also plans to pair similar patients as “health buddies” to encourage each other to stay healthy, with the goal of improved health outcomes.

Dr. Sean Jeffery, a clinical pharmacist in geriatrics for the VA Connecticut Healthcare System in West Haven, told Pharmacy Practice News:

“I absolutely think this model could work for HF and COPD patients. We need to catch COPD patients early, make sure they’re on the right medications, they stop smoking and have training on the use of inhalers, diet and exercise.”

There are so many things that are right about this pilot program: the reinforced messaging of having quarterly meetings, the cost savings of having clinicians meet with more than one patient a time, the support and camaraderie of “health buddies.”

I know this program isn’t dissimilar to HME providers doing things like hosting A.W.A.K.E. support group meetings, but it’s more intentional and focused, in terms of improving outcomes.

In this healthcare environment, that’s a necessity.