Top Story, Health IT, Policy

Wounded warrior tells of DoD-VA health IT communication issues

Thursday at the annual HIMSS Policy Summit in Washington, part of National Health IT Week, a wounded warrior told of his frustrations dealing with both health systems, and why he thinks better health IT can help.

The Military Health System and the Veterans Health Administration are both known for their mature health IT infrastructure and generally very good care. But there certainly are holes in both systems, including when it comes to DoD-VA communication, patient engagement and patient satisfaction. Turf battles between services also can get in the way.

Thursday at the annual HIMSS Policy Summit in Washington, part of National Health IT Week, a wounded warrior told of his frustrations dealing with both health systems.

“Healthcare isn’t easy,” retired Army Captain Nathan Wayne Waldon acknowledged. A platoon leader in Operation Iraqi Freedom, Waldon lost a leg and suffered significant burns as the result of an explosion in July 2007. He has since recovered, and has become a world-class snowboarder on the disabled circuit; he tried out for the 2014 U.S. Paralympic team.

Following the injury, Waldon was in transit for a week, from U.S. Army hospitals in Iraq and Germany to what is now Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. He said he felt helpless, like neither he nor his family were given adequate updates about his health.

“Medical information and technology would have been useful at these points,” said Waldon, who now serves as CEO of Reveille Group, a Washington-based consultancy to government contractors across multiple industries. He was groggy for sure from the trauma and medications, but Waldon said his family did not really know his true health status during this time, despite receiving updates on his location.

“To be perfectly honest, I was in a system that was a well-oiled machine at the time,” in terms of care and transportation, Waldon said. But communication was lacking. In the following weeks, months and years, so was patient education, in his opinion. If Waldon had is way, “Transparency and health literacy issues would be central to this process,” he said.

“I am almost over-cared for, so I have a difficult time understanding [everything],” Waldon said. And because the Defense Department and VA health IT infrastructure still don’t talk to each other, he had to carry paper records as he was discharged from the Army into VA care. He also had to log into separate portals to view and manage his health information.

“The VA portal works well, but it doesn’t talk to the DoD portal,” he said.

Additionally, the 2011 merger between Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington and the National Naval Medical Center in nearby Bethesda unintentionally created redundancies that cost taxpayers money and possibly hindered care, according to Walden. For example, the Army and Navy medical operations have different supply chains and often do not coordinate, he said.