When John Galde first noticed symptoms of what was finally diagnosed as multiple sclerosis, he was still working and seeing a non-VA provider in the community. If he had a question about his symptoms, he would call the provider and leave a message.
“When you can’t work, you can’t do this, can’t do that, and you don’t know why, that’s very strenuous,” said the U.S. Army Veteran who served between 1983 and 1987. “If I would go and call my doctor for an answer to a question I might have, I might not hear back for a few days if at all.
”Galde now sees Dr. Nathan Birch, a primary care provider at the Omaha VA Medical Center. At Birch’s suggestion, Galde signed up for MyHealtheVet, VA’s online personal health record, which also includes a secure messaging feature that allows him to send Birch secure emails.
“I get a lot of questions that I might think of, but I’ll forget to ask him when I see him. It’s just so great when I can bounce something off of him,” Glade said.
Being able to answer quick questions, especially for patients with chronic illness, is one reason Birch said he encourages patients to use the secure messaging feature. Out of his almost 400 patients, more than 62 percent of them are registered on MyHealtheVet, and almost 45 percent have opted in to use the secure messaging feature.
Galde also uses MyHealtheVet to refill his prescriptions, which are mailed to his home.
“Sign up for it,” Galde said. “I tell people this all the time. I understand if you’re only going to the VA once or twice a year, maybe it wouldn’t be beneficial for you. But, if you’re going more than a few times a year, I think it’s a great help.”
Another benefit to using MyHealtheVet, Birch said, is it provides a better way to make shared decisions. When patients come into the doctor, they are often asked to make decisions on their treatment. Now, instead of being forced to make a decision right away, Birch provides the options, sends his patients home with his notes and tells them to email him.
“These are life-changing decisions,” Birch said. “People can go home; they can think about it; they can talk to others. Email gives a way to give quick and easy feedback on something like this.”
Not everything can be diagnosed via secure messaging, but once Veterans start using the system, they really like it Birch said. In the past year, Birch has responded to 2,090 secure messages and initiated almost 1,900 messages. He communicates with everyone from a 93-year-old female Veteran in a nursing home to homeless Veterans using the system.
Some of the surprising resistance is the younger Veterans, Birch said. “They say, ‘Well aren’t you on Facebook?” And I say, “Do you really want me to put that on Facebook?”
For more information, or to register for MyHealtheVet, visit www.myhealth.va.gov. To opt in to receive secure messaging, Veterans need to take a photo identification card to the Release of Information office to have their account authenticated. Release of Information is located in Room 1201 in Omaha, Room 086 in Lincoln and Room SE117 in Grand Island. Veterans at the other community-based outpatient clinics should speak with their provider about opting in to secure messaging.