Enhancing women veterans’ care with effective care coordination
In the last two decades, the number of female veterans—and, subsequently, their need for healthcare—has risen significantly. Between 2000 and 2012 alone, female care delivery needs within the veteran’s administration (VA) increased by 226%, a figure that only stands to rise as more active-duty women transition to veteran status. However, unlike their male counterparts who are aged 63 on average, nearly 80 percent of female veterans are under the age of 40 and therefore still of child-bearing age. This means women’s healthcare services are often fragmented across several providers and specialty areas such as obstetrics, gynecology and family planning are often outsourced to non-VA providers.
Due to a lack of data standardization and interoperability across the healthcare industry as a whole, information sharing between these providers makes coordinating care and optimizing outcomes a challenge. When care is fragmented, it inhibits overall care plan visibility – increasing risk of complications, misdiagnoses, duplicative treatments, etc. This means that women veterans who receive care both in and outside of the VA have more gaps in information sharing than their male counterparts. Furthermore, recent VA quality measures show that female veterans receiving care from VA providers are more likely to receive breast and cervical cancer screenings than women in private sector healthcare, making successful care delivery and data accessibility all the more vital.
If, for example, a female veteran becomes pregnant while also taking medications that are known teratogenic drugs to manage mental health, this health information may not be shared between her non-VA obstetric and her VA behavioral health providers, which may lead pregnancy or birth complications. Or, take the staggering 25–31 percent of all veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan that will likely be diagnosed with one or more mental illnesses and/or psychosocial disorders, breakdowns in care coordination like this put female veterans at increased risk for these types of errors.
By leveraging technology and embracing key strategies, VA providers can facilitate effective care coordination to better meet servicewomen’s unique physical and mental health needs, while also reducing patient safety risks and promoting better overall outcomes. For instance, DSS’ Maternity Tracker employs a combination of VistA-based technology and innovative new modules to provide access to critical data for female patients – including information concerning complicated pregnancies, reproductive health, mental health, additional children and/or menstrual cycle history.
A few best practices to initiate the process include:
Provide a care coordinator. Onboard a dedicated women’s health coordinator to work with both VA and non-VA providers to help facilitate communication, navigate the system and ensure patient needs are met. These coordinators track care delivery, whether from VA or non-VA providers, offering a personal touch across the care continuum.
Leverage technology. Employ emerging technology and tools such as electronic alerts, clinical reminders and updated treatment plans to trigger specific screenings based on documented information or track prenatal care for pregnant patients, ensuring veterans are receiving the care they need.
Initiate a screening process. Evaluate female patients for pregnancy and mental health issues on a regular basis. Moving forward, organizations can also expand these areas to include breast health, ovarian and uterine cancers, sexually transmitted diseases, peri-menopausal and menopausal symptom management, bone density and other women’s health issues.