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Virtual Education Center: Advancing Digital-First Health Care for Patients

Image of Virtual Education Center graphic. Launched in January 2023, the VEC is a source of health and wellness information giving patients access to more than 50,000 education materials covering over 60 medical topics to research symptoms and prepare for appointments. (Credit: Kim Farcot)

The team overseeing the rollout of the Defense Health Agency’s new Virtual Education Center want to empower patients and give them the tools they need to make decisions in their own health care.

“That is what the Virtual Education Center was created to do,” said U.S. Army Col. Maria Molina, director for the DHA’s education and training and division chief for the agency’s Medical Modernization and Simulation office. “It’s about patient centeredness.”

Launched in January 2023, the VEC is a source of health and wellness information giving patients access to more than 50,000 education materials covering over 60 medical topics to research symptoms and prepare for appointments.

Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas, was the first MHS facility to offer VEC access to patients. It is now available to patients at all Military Health System hospitals and clinics.

U.S. Air Force Maj. Meki Bocage, VEC branch chief, said the center’s centralized health, education, and wellness information allows patients to have a better understanding of their health conditions.

“If they have illness or any concerns, our platform gives them vetted resources and reliable health information they can explore regarding any health issue they may have. They can also share this information with their family and friends.”

Molina said patients can access education information and diagnoses through a centralized dashboard.

“If they find content that helps them understand a diagnosis, or they really like the way something's explained—they can actually save that content to their folders and their own dashboard,” said Molina. “There's also a standard folder on their dashboard where anything sent from their provider is saved automatically.”

“This access to information is so important,” she said. “Patients can refer back to the content their provider sent them previously instead of needing to make another appointment.”

Through the VEC, patients have different types of media available for their reference, Bocage added. “They can receive videos, handouts, pamphlets, or links to a website.”

Molina clarified the VEC does not house a patient’s private medical records. “This is purely an educational resource.”

Providing Tools and Resources for Clinicians

“From the clinician’s perspective, we can easily send information through the VEC to the patient,” said Bocage. “Rather than paper documents that can get lost or thrown away, they can save the information and access it on their personal devices through the centralized dashboard. They can reference that information whenever they need.”

“We all lose these pieces of paper,” said Molina. “There are very few people that are organized enough to keep all these records—this saves the provider from having to continually re-educate patients.”

The VEC offers additional tools for clinicians including:

  • Sending pre- and post-operative information to patients

    “This is information that people really don't want to lose,” said Molina. “What do I need to after surgery? When can I go back to my activities? They now have this at their fingertips instead of having to sift through a pile of paper they may or may not have maintained.”

  • Capturing valuable analytics that clinicians can access to see if patients open the content sent to them and measure engagement

    “We're finding that our patients who receive their health content are more engaged,” said Bocage. “We are seeing really high numbers of patients opening those resources based on what we're tracking in our system.”

  • Streamlining workflows

    “When clinicians send a patient an email, they can easily see all the content with the hyperlinks previously sent, said Molina. “They can paste this information in the patient’s electronic medical record so other providers can see what educational content the patient already received.”

  • Creating QR codes for use in health campaigns

    “When military hospitals and clinics are making their big pushes for flu vaccines, for example, they can create QR codes that not only have instructions on how to get your flu shot, but links to information like why it's important to get a flu shot, and safety for children and pregnant women,” said Molina. “This can all be loaded to single QR code easily without having to create many different QR codes.”

Advancing the Goals of the Military Health System

The VEC is a step forward in advancing DHA Director U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Telita Crosland’s vision of digital-first health care for patients, said Molina.

“This supports the digital front door as well as our goals of collaboration, empowering patients, and actionable data,” she said.

“When you look at the DHA director’s vision for the evolution of health care, it shifts from being provider centric to patient centric,” said Molina. “The Virtual Education Center can help accomplish this goal.”

“It’s also giving patients what they want,” she continued. “They want to be able to look up their health, education information on their phone and educate themselves. They want to be active and educated participants in making their health care decisions.”

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Last Updated: May 17, 2024
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