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Department of Veterans Affairs issues 1,000 iPads to aid veterans and caregivers

by Michael Singer

July 29 2013

Under Secretary for Health Dr. Robert Petzel and other VA leaders at the Family Caregiver Pilot launch
Under Secretary for Health Dr. Robert Petzel and other VA leaders at the Family Caregiver Pilot launch

A program to bring more than 1,000 iPads to the families of seriously injured Post-9/11 veterans is expected to provide improved health services to service men and women dealing with special conditions.

While caring for injured veterans is initially done at military hospitals, it’s often family members and other caregivers that provide ongoing and daily services.

Knowing that it still needed to track the progress of these veterans, the Department of Veterans Affairs decided to empower these caregivers with a program that would capture the veteran’s medical information and report the data back to the VA. The solution also needed to be mobile enough for it to be effective.

So, earlier this month, Under Secretary for Health Dr. Robert Petzel and other VA leaders met with Caregivers Dellareece Bostick and Marcella Stretch, along with retired Lt. Col. Timothy Bostick to officially launch the Family Caregiver Pilot. The initial rollout included 1,000 iPad devices.

The tablets are loaded with 10 specially-created apps that lets veterans complete some self-assessments and make the results available to their caregiver. The suite of apps was created by a team at the VA and outside contractors Agilex and FirstView.

Connecting caregivers, veterans, and the VA

The VA says it has three goals in providing these tablets and specialized apps for those caring for service men and women.

”The first is the impact of the iPads on caregivers’ stress and burden,” said Kathleen Frisbee, Director of Web and Mobile Solutions in the Veterans Health Administration. “We’re looking at the historical stress and burden scores we collect through our home visits on those that have the iPad versus those that don’t. The second is looking at caregiver preparedness and trying to understand the impact iPads can have on that. And finally we’re looking at the characteristics of caregivers that predict use of the iPad. It’s trying to understand the audience, what made people use it versus why they didn’t use it.”

Among the iPad apps being used by caregivers

  • Launch Pad 01: (pictured) the central place on the VA-loaned iPads where pilot participants can access VA Mobile Health Apps. It comes pre-installed on all iPads being used in the Family Caregiver Pilot.

  • Rx-Refill-01:  provides Veterans and Caregivers with the ability to request and track medication refills from their mobile device. The App shows which prescriptions are eligible for refill and allows users to submit refill requests to the VA Mail Order Pharmacy.

  • Care4Caregiver-01: a self-assessment tool that helps Caregivers keep  track of their level of strain overtime, provides stress coping tips, and connects Caregivers to available community and personal resources.

  • Summary-of-Care: allows Veterans and their Caregivers to receive and view VA medical information – including lab results, medications, allergies, information on past and upcoming appointments, progress notes from clinic visits, hospital discharge notes, radiology exams and more.

Two other apps help veterans coping with particular conditions: PainCoach and PTSD, which is a modified version of the PTSDCoach app the VA released in 2011.

Measuring results

Data from the pilot program will start to come back in six months, with the pilot concluding in a year. After the results are in, the VA will modify the apps based on feedback from the pilot and make them available to all veterans and even to the general public.

Although the pilot uses Apple devices, the long-term plan is to develop in HTML5, Frisbee told MobiHealthNews.

“The Family Caregiver pilot apps are native iOS applications, but subsequent developments have been HTML5. At the time [we began working on the pilot] the only approved device for use in the VA was an iOS device. Android had not yet been approved. It was Blackberry or iOS. Since we provided the devices, we ended up there on that particular pilot, but that’s not our long-term strategy.”

Additionally, the Veteran Appointment Request Web App Pilot will provide more than 600 Veterans with the ability to request primary care and mental health care appointments using mobile devices or desktop computers. This pilot program recently launched at the Washington, D.C. VA Medical Center and VA Palo Alto Health Care System.

Michael Singer is the Business Editor for TabTimes

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