LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas. —  Veterans and their caregivers say the VA is prepared to handle the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a VA research study published in the prestigious Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

A team of researchers from Central Arkansas Veterans Healthcare System (CAVHS) and the South Central VA Health Care Network studied the perspectives of 51 Veterans and caregivers currently enrolled in VA and National Institutes of Health ongoing clinical trials.

Questions included participant’s perception of safety when visiting a VA medical facility, the level of panic among the general public, the medical center’s preparedness in handling the pandemic, the safety associated with the extra screening at entrances and if they would recommend others keep their in-person appointments.  Two additional questions probed participants major sources of information on the pandemic, and whether they prefer in-person visits or telehealth.

Most of the participants – 78% — said they felt safe coming to their scheduled appointments, and 82% felt that their VA medical center was either prepared or very prepared for the pandemic.

Doctor Prasad Padala, associate director, Clinical Programs for Central Arkansas Veterans Healthcare System’s Geriatric Research Education and Clinical Center (GRECC), joined with six other CAVHS scholars and one University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences researcher to conduct the study.

“Knowing Veterans’ and their caregivers’ perspectives may help researchers be better prepared for future pandemics,” said Dr. Prasad Padala, who is board certified in psychiatry and has added certifications in geriatric psychiatry and psychosomatic medicine.  “Two such measures could be investing in ways to send timely and accurate messages to patients and their caregivers and offering more telehealth options during pandemics.”

Video Telehealth is Useful but Veterans Face Barriers

A second but separate study headed up by Dr. Kalpana Padala, associate director, Clinical Research at the GRECC, found that VA Video Connect – a program that allows Veterans to “see” their providers via tablet, smart phone or computer – is an extremely useful tool but its use among rural Veterans is facing barriers.

“A cross-sectional study of 118 older Veterans conducted at CAVHS found that rural Veterans have disproportionately lower internet access,” said Dr. Kalpana Padala, who is board certified in family medicine and has certificate of added qualifications in geriatrics.

According to the study published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, rural Veterans had significantly lower internet access than urban Veterans despite 77% of patients aged an average of 73 years had internet access.

Despite these barriers, the study found that over two-thirds of Veterans with an upcoming appointment preferred a VA Video Connect session over traditional telehealth.  The study also determined that Veterans using the VA’s MyHealtheVet program were more likely to use VA Video Connect.

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“The Research Program at CAVHS, in association with the VA’s Office of Research and Development, is excellent,” said Dr. Prasad Padala, who in addition to his research, serves to foster collaborative efforts between the GRECC and clinical programs to develop, implement, and evaluate innovative clinical programs designed to improve the care and quality of life of older Veterans.  “Thanks to the incredible support from CAVHS leadership, clinical service, pharmacy, laboratory and others, these and other studies are putting CAVHS on the COVID-19 research map in a big way.”