BETHESDA, Md. — The Defense Health Agency is prototyping a new Virtual Education Center to provide Military Health System patients with a slate of personalized, vetted, and timely medical information to address questions that inevitably arise between appointments.
Health care providers will be able to quickly send case-specific medical information to patients via email or text message. It is an option medical experts say is better and more reliable than seeking information from the internet that may not always be accurate or appropriate for an individual patient’s situation.
“One of our goals is to eventually marry this vetted information through the VEC with the emerging rollout of the MHS GENESIS Patient Portal, part of the Department of Defense’s new electronic medical record system,” Lt. Col. (Dr.) Maria Molina, chief of the Medical Modernization and Simulation Division, Education and Training Directorate, at the DHA headquarters in Falls Church, Virginia, said.
Molina credited Lt. Gen. (Dr.) Ronald Place, DHA Director, for drawing attention to the importance of health literacy and the relative lack of organized information for patients, stating, “Lt. Gen. Place raised these concerns in the spring of 2020 and DHA launched new research on patient health care education across the MHS, which concluded in December and confirmed that there was indeed a gap.”
“When a patient sees me, I often need to search in multiple places to gather take-home information related to their condition, which is inefficient and a poor use of the limited time I have with my patients,” Molina, who is an obstetrician-gynecologist and works one day a week at nearby Fort Belvoir Community Hospital, said.
“But, currently, there is no easy, consolidated way for me to give them vetted patient education,” she elaborated.
Molina collaborated with the Program Manager for Medical Simulation & Training, part of DHA’s Component Acquisition Executive, to translate the Education & Training Directorate needs into a solution. A contract to build the VEC prototype was awarded in September.
The VEC project aligns with DHA’s “Ready Reliable Care” framework and the agency’s goal of “satisfied patients.”
“We have a vendor who has developed this capability on the commercial side and it is an incredible product,” Brett Lord, assistant program manager for PM MST, headquartered in Orlando, Florida, said.
With a customizable dashboard, providers can establish folders, “search all content, and save [an article] as a favorite to be stored in that folder to review at a later time,” Lord said.
Molina said the project is currently in the prototype development phase. The next step will be a pilot program at several military hospitals, followed by a rollout of the service to the entire MHS enterprise expected to occur in 2023. That is where the plan to partner with MHS GENESIS will come into play.
In the future, the VEC aims to integrate a screen tab within MHS GENESIS for patient education. Providers will be able to simply click to send vetted information via email or text to the patient. The message will urge the patient to read the information and the provider will be able to see whether the patient has viewed the article.
“From a workload perspective, we did not want the doctor to have to switch systems to prescribe content,” Lord said.
Molina said this method is “absolutely” preferable to patients doing their own research online because the information patients find could be unreliable or inaccurate. VEC sources will be validated by DHA.
Other clinical information will also come through the system, minimizing the possibility of, for example, losing a piece of paper handed to a patient on the way out the door. Patients will have their own customizable dashboard so they can search the entire site.
The VEC will be a “new source of truth” and a “rich virtual experience” for both patients and providers, according to the vendor. There will even be voluntary “quizlets” so patients can prepare for doctor visits, so doctors can see ahead of time whether patients have read and understood the material.
The new system will also have the capability to push out emergency information quickly.
A commercial version of the system is already in use at some civilian hospitals.
“I am very excited,” Molina said, “It could have a huge impact not only on patient satisfaction, but provider satisfaction as well. Providers want to give their patients the best care possible while also being efficient and able to manage their time.”