The Veterans Health Administration Whole Health Model of Care: Early Implementation and Utilization at a Large Healthcare System

Author: William R Marchand1,2, Julie Beckstrom1,3, Elena Nazarenko1, Renn U Sweeny1, Tracy Herrmann1,4, McKenzi R Yocus1,5, Jennifer Romesser1, Jeremy Roper1, Brandon Yabko1,2, Ashley Parker1
Affiliation: <sup>1</sup> VISN 19 Whole Health Flagship Site, VA Salt Lake City Health Care System, 500 Foothill, Salt Lake City, UT 84148. <sup>2</sup> Department of Psychiatry, University of Utah School of Medicine, 501 Chipeta Way, Salt Lake City, UT 84108. <sup>3</sup> Division of Vascular Surgery, Department of Surgery, University of Utah, 30 N 1900 E, Salt Lake City, UT 84132. <sup>4</sup> Department of Nutrition &amp; Integrative Physiology, College of Health, University of Utah, 250 S 1850 E, Salt Lake City, UT 84108. <sup>5</sup> University of Utah School of Medicine, 30 N 1900 E, Salt Lake City, UT 84132.
Conference/Journal: Mil Med
Date published: 2020 Sep 1
Other: Special Notes: doi: 10.1093/milmed/usaa198. , Word Count: 385

The U.S. Veterans Health Administration (VHA) is changing the way it provides healthcare to a model known as Whole Health (WH). The aim is to shift from a primarily medical/disease-oriented system to a model that focuses on health promotion and disease prevention; utilizes personalized, proactive, and patient-driven care; and emphasizes the use of complementary and integrative health. This investigation aimed to examine referral and utilization patterns in early implementation at tertiary care VHA medical care system. Specific aims were to evaluate (1) referral patterns, (2) initial treatment engagement, and (3) continuity of treatment engagement.

Materials and methods:
This is an institutional review board-approved, retrospective study of the first 561 veterans referred to WH programming in the first 20 months of implementation. Data analyses included a chi-square goodness of fit to compare demographics of veterans who were referred to WH Services with those of local patient population. At this facility, WH offers services in three tracks (General WH, Mindfulness Center [MC], and WH Nutrition), which offer unique services to veterans. A chi-square test for independence was conducted to analyze differences in initial engagement among the WH components, in referrals and retention among WH components by time period, and in demographics or diagnoses among self-referred or veterans referred by a consult. Finally, a regression model was used to assess for predictive factors that might influence continuity of treatment engagement across all the WH tracks.

Key findings indicated potential implementation challenges including disproportionate numbers of referrals from clinical services; poor initial and ongoing treatment engagement; and older, male, and non-service-connected Veterans being less likely to be referred.

Implementation of the WH model of care has the potential to transform the way VHA delivers healthcare and improve the health and lives of veterans. However, a shift of this magnitude is likely to face challenges during implementation. This article reports on initial barriers to implementation, which can guide implementation at other sites as well as future investigations. Further research is needed to replicate these results as well as to determine underlying causal factors. However, if replicated, these results indicate that successful implementation of WH, or similar models of care, will require extensive efforts focused on outreach to, and education of, facility providers and certain patient demographic groups. Finally, efforts will be required to enhance treatment engagement.

PMID: 32870303 DOI: 10.1093/milmed/usaa198