Memorial Day and the Healthcare Connection

Memorial Day is a time to reflect – to thank our service men and women who have so bravely sacrificed in order to defend our moral virtues across the globe.  It is also a day to recognize that on the battlefield, decisions are often made with both gut instinct and decades of experience and data.  This also holds true for health related decisions in the field – and off of it – where real time data, previously not available to clinicians, help make the healthcare decision-making pathway much more conclusive.

In the “old days”, decisions to spare lives on the battlefield through cutting off limbs, for example, was thought to be a best practice.  However, modern day technology now helps dictate battlefield healthcare decisions, which in turn, can help alleviate the need for such drastic measures.  A colleague of mine in our Health practice at Edelman served as a Physicians Assistant in the Army, and he and his team aided rural societies in Latin and Central America.  He notes just how sophisticated our actual in-the-field medicine operations have become.  In addition to making great strides in the application of modern medicine in deployment, we’ve made great strides at home too.

The Veterans Administration is an early adopter of modern personal healthcare technologies, and is widely recognized for its “Blue Button” initiative – one of the most comprehensive online personal health management tools available.  Through this tool, “Veterans (have) complete control of this information (personal health data)– without any special software – and enables Veterans to share this data with their health care providers, caregivers, or people they trust”.  It is a great resource that facilitates care between patients and providers.  According to my dad, a Vietnam Veteran who uses the system to help manage his health, “It’s fantastic.  I use it to track my appointments, my prescriptions, and communicate with my physicians.  It would be wonderful if everyone had it.”

And therein lies the truth . . . “If everyone had it.”  The Veterans Administration “Blue Button” program is a centralized, interrelated system – contrary to the myriad of health provider systems that most US citizens have to navigate.  How wonderful would it be if we were able to use an online system that follows us – and our physicians – throughout provider, physician, and State lines.  While this “dream” is a reality for many Veterans, it is still very much a work-in-progress for the rest of us.  The cumbersome procedure of integrating our own personal, and family, health records with a myriad of providers and specialists still ultimately rests in the diligence of the individual creating (or navigating) the system on their own cognizance; rather than a “Blue Button” technological infrastructure which integrates patient and provider conduits of access across an entire ecosystem.

Next month, I have the honor of speaking at the Connected Health Asia conference in Singapore along with Dr. Richard Stark, Director of Primary Care Operations, Veterans Health Administration, where he will be discussing the VA’s movement toward a patient-centered model.  I look forward to learning more about how the assimilation of technology can foster a system-wide transformation, and how we could adapt it to our healthcare ecosystem.

So, if you have a moment today, let’s pause, and remember those who bravely served our country, and thank a Veteran for their service – as well as the VA for taking the initiative to modernize a continuum of care for our Veterans.

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