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1.  A Participatory Approach to Designing and Enhancing Integrated Health Information Technology Systems for Veterans: Protocol 
JMIR Research Protocols  2015;4(1):e28.
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has developed health information technologies (HIT) and resources to improve veteran access to health care programs and services, and to support a patient-centered approach to health care delivery. To improve VA HIT access and meaningful use by veterans, it is necessary to understand their preferences for interacting with various HIT resources to accomplish health management related tasks and to exchange information.
The objective of this paper was to describe a novel protocol for: (1) developing a HIT Digital Health Matrix Model; (2) conducting an Analytic Hierarchy Process called pairwise comparison to understand how and why veterans want to use electronic health resources to complete tasks related to health management; and (3) developing visual modeling simulations that depict veterans’ preferences for using VA HIT to manage their health conditions and exchange health information.
The study uses participatory research methods to understand how veterans prefer to use VA HIT to accomplish health management tasks within a given context, and how they would like to interact with HIT interfaces (eg, look, feel, and function) in the future. This study includes two rounds of veteran focus groups with self-administered surveys and visual modeling simulation techniques. This study will also convene an expert panel to assist in the development of a VA HIT Digital Health Matrix Model, so that both expert panel members and veteran participants can complete an Analytic Hierarchy Process, pairwise comparisons to evaluate and rank the applicability of electronic health resources for a series of health management tasks.
This protocol describes the iterative, participatory, and patient-centered process for: (1) developing a VA HIT Digital Health Matrix Model that outlines current VA patient-facing platforms available to veterans, describing their features and relevant contexts for use; and (2) developing visual model simulations based on direct veteran feedback that depict patient preferences for enhancing the synchronization, integration, and standardization of VA patient-facing platforms. Focus group topics include current uses, preferences, facilitators, and barriers to using electronic health resources; recommendations for synchronizing, integrating, and standardizing VA HIT; and preferences on data sharing and delegation within the VA system.
This work highlights the practical, technological, and personal factors that facilitate and inhibit use of current VA HIT, and informs an integrated system redesign. The Digital Health Matrix Model and visual modeling simulations use knowledge of veteran preferences and experiences to directly inform enhancements to VA HIT and provide a more holistic and integrated user experience. These efforts are designed to support the adoption and sustained use of VA HIT to support patient self-management and clinical care coordination in ways that are directly aligned with veteran preferences.
PMCID: PMC4376141  PMID: 25803324
veterans; patient-provider communication; Department of Veterans Affairs; mixed methods; patient-centered care
2.  Evaluating User Experiences of the Secure Messaging Tool on the Veterans Affairs’ Patient Portal System 
The United States Department of Veterans Affairs has implemented an electronic asynchronous “Secure Messaging” tool within a Web-based patient portal (ie, My HealtheVet) to support patient-provider communication. This electronic resource promotes continuous and coordinated patient-centered care, but to date little research has evaluated patients’ experiences and preferences for using Secure Messaging.
The objectives of this mixed-methods study were to (1) characterize veterans’ experiences using Secure Messaging in the My HealtheVet portal over a 3-month period, including system usability, (2) identify barriers to and facilitators of use, and (3) describe strategies to support veterans’ use of Secure Messaging.
We recruited 33 veterans who had access to and had previously used the portal’s Secure Messaging tool. We used a combination of in-depth interviews, face-to-face user-testing, review of transmitted secure messages between veterans and staff, and telephone interviews three months following initial contact. We assessed participants’ computer and health literacy during initial and follow-up interviews. We used a content-analysis approach to identify dominant themes in the qualitative data. We compared inferences from each of the data sources (interviews, user-testing, and message review) to identify convergent and divergent data trends.
The majority of veterans (27/33, 82%) reported being satisfied with Secure Messaging at initial interview; satisfaction ratings increased to 97% (31/32, 1 missing) during follow-up interviews. Veterans noted Secure Messaging to be useful for communicating with their primary care team to manage health care needs (eg, health-related questions, test requests and results, medication refills and questions, managing appointments). Four domains emerged from interviews: (1) perceived benefits of using Secure Messaging, (2) barriers to using Secure Messaging, (3) facilitators for using Secure Messaging, and (4) suggestions for improving Secure Messaging. Veterans identified and demonstrated impediments to successful system usage that can be addressed with education, skill building, and system modifications. Analysis of secure message content data provided insights to reasons for use that were not disclosed by participants during interviews, specifically sensitive health topics such as erectile dysfunction and sexually transmitted disease inquiries.
Veterans perceive Secure Messaging in the My HealtheVet patient portal as a useful tool for communicating with health care teams. However, to maximize sustained utilization of Secure Messaging, marketing, education, skill building, and system modifications are needed. Data from this study can inform a large-scale quantitative assessment of Secure Messaging users’ experiences in a representative sample to validate qualitative findings.
PMCID: PMC3961805  PMID: 24610454
veterans; secure messaging; patient-provider communication; Department of Veterans Affairs; usability testing; mixed methods; patient-centered care

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