Texting creates access for VA patients - West Texas VA Health Care System
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West Texas VA Health Care System

 

Texting creates access for VA patients

Photo of Veteran side by side with photo of text screen

Photo: U.S. Navy Veteran Jennifer McDonald works the oil fields in North Texas and spends most of her time away from home. Making her health care appointments at VA North Texas is a priority for her when she is home and she helps manage that process with the help of VetText – text messaging reminders. “It’s not always easy, but I always make it home for my appointments,” said McDonald. VA North Texas recovers tens of thousands of appointments annually with VetText. Veterans receive text reminders for their VA health care appointments and can cancel with a simple text response. That cancelation message back to VA begins an automated process of offering the available appointment time to another Veteran, saving millions of dollars in missed appointment costs.

By Michael Cole, Public Affairs Officer, West Texas VA Health Care System
Thursday, December 5, 2019

U.S. Navy Veteran, Jennifer McDonald works the oil fields, spending more time away for work than at home.  When she is home, her time is precious and is managed carefully – with her VA Health Care System appointments being a top priority.

“The VA has really changed for the better over the last few years and has really made me appreciate the care I receive,” said McDonald.  “It’s not always easy, but I always make it home for my appointments.”

More than 9 million medical appointments are missed every year across the VA health care system. That’s nearly one appointment for every active Veteran in the Texas VA system, and equates to more than $56 million in lost costs or missed opportunities.

“Missed opportunities has a cascading effect on the health care system,” said Froy Garza, assistant director for outpatient services.  “Staff scheduling, lab availability, specialty services, food services–every aspect of the facility feels the impacts of missed opportunities.”

The single greatest impact is felt by Veterans. While VA access times are generally better than locally available community care, there is room for improvement. Primary care clinics in VA North Texas average a 12-percent

“Every missed appointment represents a lost opportunity to provide faster access to care for our Veterans,” said Garza

Employing technology with VetText is one-way VA is working to maximize patient accessibility and minimize missed opportunities, and it’s having benefits beyond just being a simple reminder for Veterans.

VetText offers Veterans the opportunity to confirm or cancel their appointment.  If the Veteran cancels their appointment, that open appointment time is automatically offered to another Veteran.  This feature alone is saving hundreds of hours of time for medical administration personnel, and salvaging appointments for Veterans who need them. Since VetText’s inception, the national no-show rate for appointments has steadily declined.

VA uses multiple reminders to reduce no-show patients with post card reminders, automated phone messages, and letters. For McDonald, though the post card reminders come to her home, she’s rarely there to receive them, so VetText keeps her informed and on schedule.

VetText began operations in May 2018, and in fiscal year 2019, VA North Texas sent some 2.2 million text message reminders. More than 48,000 appointments were canceled via text and were immediately offered to another Veteran – saving more than $17 million in lost health care costs.

Scrolling through her saved text messages, McDonald says, “These I can save and call up when I need them. The information is always at my fingertips.”

Veterans who add a mobile phone number to their health record should already receive VetText reminders. Veterans can update phone numbers during check-in or check-out at kiosks, during an appointment, or through their web portal account.

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