A view from the Center

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A glimpse into the future of health care at VA

As we wrote several weeks ago, “the health plan of the future is easy to see.” The health plan of the future may not just help with the financing but may also be the facilitator and enabler of achieving health through a consumer-focused platform.

This is happening across the health care industry. While other industries have automated and streamlined their services so people are empowered to book trips, order cars, or get products instantly delivered to their homes, the health care system is catching up. Many health care stakeholders today are focused on having a more patient- and consumer-centric system.

There are some success stories – the ongoing shift to incenting value over volume, the health information technology revolution resulting in major reductions in the cost of storing data and increases in analytical capabilities, and the widespread adoption of electronic health records (EHRs) are a few examples of the current transformation happening in health care.

But, health care is not like those other industries in many ways. Human relationships, empathy, and compassion should always be central components to almost any system improvement in health care.

This is especially true for the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) – an organization that is extending beyond the traditional confines of the health care system to meet consumers where they are. Despite the well-publicized issues at VA over recent years, it is important to keep in mind there are aspects of health delivery for which VA stands as a model.

VA is on a journey to become more patient-centric and focused on improving the health and quality of life for Veterans. Recognizing that not all Veterans are the same and there is no “one” Veteran, VA is focused on deepening its understanding of what barriers and concerns Veterans are facing and what they will encounter and live through both inside and outside of the health care system. Using this information as a guide, VA is organizing and planning better care experiences for Veterans.

VA faces many of the same constraints as the private health care sector:

VA has a head start in many ways, some of which may serve as lessons for the commercial sector. Its integrated provider-payer system allows for more fluid data flow. VA also has access to social and other services such as housing all that have important impacts on Veterans’ lives. VA’s progress in telehealth is also virtually unparalleled to other health systems. It made early investments and a commitment to increasing access to specialists, incorporating mental health care into primary care and leading in home monitoring that allows older Veterans to live at home longer. Finally, while VA is cognizant of return-on-investment (ROI) – resources are finite and successful health care stakeholders must be mindful of balancing cost and quality – ROI is less about a business case for VA. The organization remains one that is striving to do whatever is necessary to ensure that Veterans get the right treatment in the right place at the right time.

These early commitments give us a glimpse into what the future of VA will look like. In the journey to better serve Veterans, transparency, connectedness, and building the capabilities for patients to feel like they are better at understanding and being able to manage their own health are critical.

For some Veterans, this could be making transactions easier – managing tasks such as booking appointments and filling prescriptions on their own. Beyond transactions, some Veterans want the ability to communicate with their care team over the phone, through secure emails, text, and video chat. Having access to real-time, synchronous expert care through telehealth can help improve access to care, the patient experience, care delivery, and ultimately, health outcomes. Technological and data analytics capabilities will be important, but the human element, the relationship between the patient and clinician, and meeting Veterans wherever they are on their journey, will be paramount.

The terminology is different at VA. Whether it’s concepts of adapting to military culture or being a proud patriot who is outwardly proud of their military service, Veterans interact with the VA system differently than their counterparts in the commercial population. But, what is not different is the outcomes that each is looking for: High quality care at the right time in the right place.

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Author bio

Dr. Cooper is the Global Health Care Sector Leader and the US National Inclusion Leader for Deloitte. She is a Deloitte Consulting LLP principal and most recently served as the Federal Health Sector leader for Deloitte in the United States. Previously, Terri served as lead client service partner for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the U.S. Life Sciences R&D practice leader. She has more than two decades of experience in the life sciences and health care industry and has provided a broad range of strategic advisory services. She holds a Joint Honors BS Degree in Chemistry/Pharmacology and a PhD in Pharmacology from the University of London.