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Improving Diabetes Management While Increasing Access

Veterans save time, find better care with Secure Messaging

My HealtheVet's Secure Messaging feature is paving the way for improvements in patient care. A new pilot program was recently launched that trains patients with diabetes on how to track their blood sugar levels. It also teaches them how to update their health care providers on their glucose levels through Secure Messages. This "Virtual Care" experience has been shrinking appointment scheduling windows from six to two weeks. It has even demonstrated how it can give Veterans the opportunity to get care from anywhere in the world.

The Diabetes Clinic Pilot was launched in December 2015. The pilot program was the brain child of the Martinsburg (W.Va) VA Medical Center staff.

Throughout the Diabetes Pilot, secure messages increased though none of them were escalated (acted on or 'bumped up' if unread for three days).

Patients are encouraged by patient care teams to enroll in My HealtheVet so they can use Secure Messaging. Once they have registered, patients then receive training in tracking their blood sugar. They also receive training on how to use Secure Messaging to send information about their blood sugar to their health care team. Secure Messaging lets Veterans send and receive messages from members of their health care team. In many ways it looks and acts like email, but is safer.

Diabetes is a lifelong condition in which sugar (glucose) remains in the blood instead of entering the body's cells to be used for energy. The higher blood sugar levels can damage many body systems over time.

This pilot program began in one of the Martinsburg VA Medical Center clinics. The clinic has a high volume of diabetic patients. Frequently, patients need to schedule follow-up visits to have their glucose levels checked. Through this pilot, patients can use Secure Messaging to send in their blood sugar data to their health care teams. This way they are often saved the trouble of physically going to the medical center to receive follow up care.

When the teams receive the information through Secure Messaging they can monitor and help control patients' blood sugar and adjust medications. More than 750 messages have been exchanged with patients since the pilot began. This allows Veterans and their health care teams to save time. The use of Secure Messaging reduces the number of follow-up visits and increases access to the clinics for more patients who need face-to-face appointments.

"We have one elderly patient in the pilot who has cancer and he can't make the 2.5-hour trip regularly to the VA," said Richard Harris, Director, Martinsburg's Office of Connected Care and My HealtheVet Coordinator. "He uses the Secure Messaging feature to communicate with his provider and to receive the care he needs."

Veterans Regulate Glucose Levels, Even While Overseas

Anneke Tavenner, Acting Chief of Pharmacy Services, is an advocate for Secure Messaging. She has seen how it enables care teams to reach a greater number of patients. That includes those that are working overseas.

"As result of the pilot, we began providing care to Veterans that would not have received care if it wasn't for Secure Messaging," Tavenner said. "For example, we are now providing care for contractors, truck drivers, and other Veterans that had trouble clearing their schedule and physically going to medical center for an appointment."

One of the Veterans in the pilot was having difficulty with managing his diabetes. His glucose levels were too high to maintain a Commercial Driver's License (CDL). He joined the pilot program and began working with VA Pharmacist Dr. Adam Gold to track his glucose levels through Secure Messaging. He also used the Secure Messaging to adjust medications. As a result, he was able to pass the CDL certification, maintain his license, and is employed as a truck driver. His care continues with no gaps, no matter what state he is driving in.

Another unemployed patient established excellent control of his diabetes during the pilot. He did this while connecting with a contracting job offer that took him overseas to Afghanistan. Now he resides there and works as a consultant. His access to virtual care allows him to continue to manage his health even while overseas.

The pilot project has helped the Veterans Health Administration meet one of its goals, "provide Veterans with personalized, proactive and patient driven health care," by improving access and reducing appointment wait times. Veterans can receive patient care no matter where they are, even when they are not in the U.S., and appointments that would be six weeks out are now available within two.

Secure Messaging is available to registered, Premium account holders of My HealtheVet. Log on today.

Read more:

Secure Messaging (My HealtheVet)

What is Type 2 Diabetes? (Veterans Health Library)

Vietnam Vet Finds Help from 4,000 miles Away (VAMC)