Connected Health 2015: VA to launch field test of self-care text messaging app

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs will soon launch a field test of an automated text-messaging application geared toward improving self-care efforts of veterans.

The application, named "Annie" after Annie G. Fox, who served as chief nurse in the Army Nurse Corps during the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1944, will be tested at four VA sites, according to Neil Evans, co-director of connected health at the Veterans Health Administration: Washington, D.C.; Portland, Maine; Cleveland; and Minneapolis.

Evans, speaking Monday at the HIMSS Connected Health Conference just outside the District of Columbia, said that the application was inspired by a similar tool developed by the United Kingdom's National Health Service called "Flo," named after Florence Nightingale. He noted that field tests usually last 60 days, and then another 30 days are spent fixing problems that may arise before broad rollout is considered.

"There's learning that needs to happen for both the patients who are going to be using [Annie] and the providers who are going to start to use this as a new tool," Evans told FierceMobileHealthcare.

During a discussion session, Evans noted that Annie is protocol based, and said that it will represent an extension of the providers who are prescribing it, much like Flo does currently. He pointed to Annie as just one of a number of mobile health solutions available to help patients engage more thoroughly in their own care, including apps such as PTSD Coach and Mobile Blue Button.

Evans said that in order for such tools to be effective, they must be both objective and subjective.

"When we build mobile applications, they better work," he said. "The objective quality is, it's got to work, but the subjective quality is, it should feel good, as well. The user experience really matters."

Evans said a similar argument can be made about the cost of using such tools.

"It's not about the dollars and cents, it's about the cost of my time, effort and involvement," he said. "We all know that mobile applications often get used a few times, and then are abandoned. Mostly, I think that's because we make it too hard to use, that the cost of my time is too high for me, or the quality is not good."