VA leverages tool to assess veterans’ physical, mental health

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A self-reporting tool is able to accurately track the health of veterans who may otherwise be hesitant to seek medical care, according to results of a large national cohort.

In a VA-funded study led by a researcher from Northwestern Medicine, more than 3,000 veterans nationwide used the tool—a survey called PROMIS-29—to self-report their physical and mental health.

When researchers compared the results with the general U.S. population, they found that veterans experienced more anxiety, depression, fatigue, as well as pain and sleep disturbance than other groups of Americans.

“Seeing how veterans fare relative to population norms is important because it gives us a fuller picture of their health and allows us a cursory glance at how they are doing in general,” says lead author Sherri LaVela, a research associate professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine and VA scientist. “Estimates like this are important because they provide normal ranges for health measures across cohorts.”

“Our findings suggest that PROMIS-29 may be a useful tool for VA providers to assess patient’s physical and mental health, and because PROMIS items are normed to the general population, this offers a way to compare the health of veterans with the adult population at large and identify disparate areas for intervention,” write the study’s authors in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.

To validate the results of the study, investigators accessed clinical documentation and discovered that the PROMIS self-reported outcomes corresponded with physician diagnosis data that were documented in the electronic health records.

“Veterans have enhanced options of seeking care outside the VA, which makes it crucial to have an accurate measurement of health status and symptoms among population-based samples,” observes LaVela.

“Being able to simply, yet effectively, collect these data will identify unmet needs in which to intervene,” she adds. “If a veteran has poor scores, we want to get them in and take a look.”

With more than 8.3 million veterans in the U.S. annually served by the VA, LaVela hopes that PROMIS will be integrated into the agency’s overall medical care.

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