Author: Max Thomas 6/30/2020

Smart technology is not only entertainment. It can also be a powerful tool for improving the health of veterans. With the help of VA healthcare providers, more and more veterans are using consumer devices like Apple Watches to monitor their own health.

Kimberly Braswell, a nurse practitioner at the cardiology department of the James A. Haley Veterans Hospital in Tampa, Florida, saw intelligent technology as an opportunity to connect with patients and improve their care plans.

Braswell helps treat atrial fibrillation (AFib), an irregular and often fast heart rate that can increase a person’s risk of stroke, heart failure, and other heart-related complications.

Braswell recalled the excitement of veterans when they learned about the ability of devices to measure and record health data. These data include heart rate and level of physical activity. She also noticed a big trend in patient behavior too.

“Veterans using a shift want to take care of their health. As a healthcare provider, this is the hardest part for us to perform with patients. I wanted to connect to this technology and make it work for us in VA. ”

The number of veterans experiencing watches has grown from four to 25.

Today's Apple watches can perform an electrocardiogram (ECG). This is a non-invasive test that measures the electrical signals of the heart to detect heart rhythm disturbances.

In the summer of 2019, Braswell identified four veterans for testing watches operating AFib patients. When the watch discovered that the veteran had a heart rhythm disorder, Braswell taught them how to manage their symptoms and when to seek additional treatment.

In 2020, the pilot program expanded with a new name: Veterans (involving veterans through electronic resources and studying notifications). The pilot will include 25 veterans who recently underwent AFib suppression.

Postoperative patients use their VA-issued watches to detect if there is a relapse in AFib. They will also meet on a monthly basis with their care teams through VA Video Connect, an application that allows veterans to meet with their providers through secure video calling. They will look at the data collected from their watch and discuss any symptoms that they have.

“One of the greatest strengths of mobile technology is that it allows patients to feel involved and control their healthcare,” Braswell said.

The pilot project also includes other telemedicine methods. Veterans are taught how to send their ECG results to their provider through secure messaging on My HealtheVet. After receiving such information, the provider enters it into the medical records of veterans. In addition, veterans receive automatic text notifications through the Annie Veterans App.

“We also include the Annie app to promote a healthier lifestyle and reduce risk factors for AFib,” said Braswell. “Automatic reminders of activity, sleep, nutrition, blood pressure are all we use the Annie app to engage veterans in their healthcare so they can see a correlation in how these things affect their overall health.”

Unforeseen, but equally important pilot success is the relationship that veterans establish with other veterans. Robert Chrysel is one of the first four patients in the pilot. Now he is training other veteran participants to use his watch to record his medical data.

Chrysel is pictured at the top of this story, in the far right corner, helping fellow veterans set their watches.

Braswell recalls Kraisel meeting with fellow veteran Navy Walter Zastrow.

“They both immediately tied themselves to a common service. They were able to communicate on the same level, being respectful and attentive to each other. It really was one of the most useful parts for me - to watch how veterans interact with other veterans. ”

Braswell continued: “The power of this small device is quite impressive, and I think we are just starting to connect to it. The more data providers have access to them, the better they can understand the needs of their patients and develop an individual plan that matches their lifestyle. 


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