Late Breaking News
VA Seeks to Gather More Information on Women Veterans to Improve Care
Understanding The Population
In 2009, VA conducted its National Survey of Women Veterans, looking at users and non-users of VA care across all generations of women veterans. The survey provided a much broader picture of the women veterans population than ever before and has informed much of VA’s recent efforts.
“We formed a VA research and clinical partnership so VA could use the survey findings and apply them rapidly to VA care,” said Donna Washington, a researcher focusing on women’s access to care at the VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System.
The phone survey conducted in 2007 and 2008, polled 3,600 women veterans, 1,749 of whom were receiving VA care. The results gave VA some idea of women’s experience using their healthcare system.
“For example, we learned that one of the most common barriers to seeking care [for women] was unfamiliarity with the enrollment process and available services,” Washington said. “Many were unaware that VA provided women’s healthcare services.”
In response, VA overhauled its women’s health website, providing far more information and making it much easier to navigate.
“We also learned that women outside the VA system were not receiving the care they needed. Overall, 1 in 5 women veterans, both in and out of VA care, had gone without needed services or delayed them,” Washington said. “VA responded quickly, and within one year we established a national call center to conduct outreach to women veterans.”
While the information gleaned from the survey has been important in directing VA’s efforts, it leaves many gaps in understanding. A second survey is scheduled to begin this year, with results to be made available in 2015.
This second survey will fill in the gaps left by the previous one, such as a better understanding of women’s access to care and more-specific information detailing the barriers to care. The second survey also will attempt to help VA better understand the effect of military service on women’s lives as a whole and to translate that information into improvements in healthcare and service delivery.
“We have so many knowledge gaps,” said Elizabeth Yano, PhD, co-director of VA’s Center of Excellence for the Study of Healthcare Provider Behavior. “We’ve got to move from describing women’s problems to testing ways to solve them.”
That means larger studies, more complex studies and more women veterans participating in the research, which is where one of the problems lies.
“Only a handful of VA research studies have focused on improving care for women veterans,” Yano said. “I ask colleagues what the holdup is, and I get the same answer every time: Even though their numbers are growing fast, women veterans are still a minority in VA, and it’s hard to get enough volunteers to make our research work.”
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