The fall 2020 issue of Veterans Affairs & Military Medicine Outlook is first and foremost a look at how the departments of Veterans Affairs and Defense have responded to the COVID-19 pandemic that, as of this writing, has claimed the lives of more than 228,000 Americans. The DOD’s on-the-ground response has included medical professionals treating military and civilian patients; National Guard personnel transporting and distributing crucial personal protective equipment and medical supplies and establishing and supporting COVID-19 testing sites; and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ conversion of hotels, dormitories, and convention centers into alternate care facilities. Meanwhile, the VA has put its research prowess and its partnership with the Department of Energy to work, gleaning insights into the virus and its effects by running patient data from publicly available datasets through DOE supercomputers. Studies and clinical trials prompted by these insights will certainly increase understanding of the disease and ways to improve patient outcomes. Two articles spotlight the actions the DOD and the VA have taken to support the health and safety of Americans and to combat COVID-19.
The focus on the pandemic provoked thoughts of quarantine, of course, and prompted the inclusion of two features in this issue: how the U.S. Navy dealt with the Spanish flu of 1918 (hint: quarantine!) and how the VA’s robust telehealth capability has been able to meet the health care needs of veterans who have followed stay-at-home advisories or who don’t wish to risk in-person medical appointments. VA telehealth has seen an 1,800% increase in use over the last few months.
It’s clear that technology – and the VA’s embrace of it – continues to make a difference in health care outcomes and access for veterans. A magazine feature providing an update on the VA MISSION Act explains that VA providers have been authorized to deliver care to patients via telemedicine regardless of where the provider and the patient are located, improving access to treatment for veterans in rural or underserved areas. The VA’s National Precision Oncology Program is harnessing the power of genetic testing of tumors to provide targeted treatment for patients, and its new National Artificial Intelligence Institute employs AI to process huge amounts of health record data with the end goal of improving diagnosis and treatment of veteran patients.
An article on the establishment of a joint health information exchange that enables sharing of health records among Military Health System, VA, and community health care providers and an article on military medical modeling and simulation acquisition and standardization across the DOD are testament to the drive on the part of the DOD and the VA to put systems in place that enable the best quality of care for military personnel and veterans, and they round out the 2020 fall issue of Veterans Affairs & Military Medicine Outlook.