The state of Veterans’ healthcare has grabbed headlines in recent years and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has seen a lot of big changes, most recently with the appointment of Dr. David J. Shulkin as its new Secretary. But one thing hasn’t changed – the department’s deep commitment to the health and well-being of our nation’s Veterans.
Still, the reality is no single organization alone can develop the solutions to meet the growing health needs of America’s vets. That’s why more and more often we’re seeing VA seek strategic collaborations – with longstanding industry partners like Philips, as well as clinicians, Veterans organizations and academia – to develop innovative technology breakthroughs. With more than 20 million Veterans today, their health has a profound impact on the health of our society as a whole but because their challenges go from the frontlines to the hospital bed to homecare, Veterans’ health is often far more complicated.
Veterans face the routine healthcare problems that we all deal with as we age, usually chronic conditions that today afflict almost half the adult population. But Veterans must also contend with unique health challenges that are often the result of battlefield injuries, especially Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBIs) and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
The RAND Center for Military Health policy has estimated that 18.5% or about 300,000 of the troops who served in Iraq and Afghanistan have PTSD or depression and almost 20% or 320,000 suffer from TBIs, often called the “signature injury of modern combat.” Those are sobering numbers, particularly when you consider that the challenges to providing care for these conditions are wide ranging from improving our understanding of how the brain functions to addressing the issue of better access to care for our heroes; from enabling fall detection through new technology to making improvements in medication management. It’s a long list and it’s growing.
Innovation and technology advances are filling the gaps between Veterans’ health needs and healthcare. Here’s an example. For some Veterans, especially those with PTSD, an MRI can be a difficult experience. With 35% of patients in the general population feeling claustrophobic in traditional MRIs, about 20% of all scans must be repeated. Imagine what 30 minutes in an MRI must be like for someone with PTSD. With a deep understanding of these sensitivities, Philips has developed a new state-of-the-art clinical environment that offers a more comfortable patient experience with imagery, sound and light that helps put patients, Veterans in particular, at ease giving them better access to imaging technology and, thereby, better diagnoses.
Recently, the Alexandria VA hospital in Pineville, Louisiana became the first VA medical center to offer this unique in-bore ambient experience with a second now installed in the Orlando VA. Both demonstrate the VA’s leadership in adopting new technology for the future that addresses some of the most pressing issues facing Veterans.
In another area, technology is helping find solutions for one of the most important questions facing healthcare providers: how can we ensure patients get the right care at the right time, preferably where they want to be – in the home? One answer is telehealth. Jonathan Linkous, CEO of the American Telemedicine Association had this to say about technology and delivery of care: “In an age when the average consumer manages nearly all aspects of life online, it’s a no brainer that healthcare should be just as accessible, convenient and safe as online banking.”
Studies show the need for 28,000 more doctors and 2,500 new mental health specialists in order to keep up with patient care demands. This has put a sharper focus on telehealth services as one way clinicians can reach more patients with world-class care. The VA, through the VA Telehealth Services group, has been a leader in telehealth demonstration projects to improve both the doctor/healthcare provider experience and the care Vets receive.
For the VA, telehealth can help lessen demand and stress on VA physicians by streamlining the care process, and reduce hospital readmissions in regional VA health systems. It also means fewer outpatient visits and improved quality of life for Vets, saving time and money for a system already under pressure.
In May, the VA approved the use of Philips’ fall detection and medication management home monitoring solutions, a government first. These medical devices let older Veterans, most at risk for falls and non-adherence to medication, remain independent while giving them ways to stay connected to their doctors and family. These solutions also have the potential to prevent emergency room visits and intensive care and readmission hospitalizations, helping lower costs.
But innovative technology doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It works because there is an increasing commitment to collaboration within the healthcare industry, the VA and the Department of Defense, and in academic settings across the country. No better proof of that commitment is the VA’s annual event, “Brain Trust: Pathways to InnoVAtion,” held in May 2017 at Harvard Medical School. Brain Trust is designed to foster strategic partnerships between government, the private sector and academia to help find solutions to the health challenges facing Veterans, especially those suffering from TBIs or PTSD.
It was a tremendous gathering of business and government leaders, an Emmy award winning sports producer, a WWE wrestler and leading scientists and academics to exchange ideas and showcase advancements in the area of TBI and head trauma. But if there was one thread that connected all of the participants, it was the belief that innovation delivered through strategic collaboration will produce the cutting edge solutions and services America’s heroes need.
The VA is focused on finding ways to use technology to support the independence and well-being of Veterans. Philips is proud to be a partner in this vital effort to deliver better health from the battlefield to the hospital, the home and across the continuum of care, seamlessly.
It’s a life changing mission. At Philips, we believe there’s always a way to make life better. And collaborations such as Brain Trust are an important start in bringing together the world’s best solutions to help deliver care and peace of mind to those who need it most.