January 5, 2012
Strategy Enables Returning Vets to Engage with Local VA Medical Center
The Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center recently launched its own page on Facebook, the world’s largest social networking site.
“This is an important milestone in our efforts to transform how we communicate with Veterans,” said Adam C. Walmus, M.H.A., M.A., F.A.C.H.E., Medical Center director. “Millions of Veterans and their family members use social media each day, so we are continuously searching for new ways to provide information to them, expand access, and embrace two-way conversation.”
Houston is just one of more than 150 VA Facebook pages. Additionally, in June 2011, VA produced a Department-wide social media policy that provides guidelines for communicating with Veterans online. The overarching strategy is designed to help break down long-perceived barriers between the Department and its stakeholders.
Veterans are encouraged to use Houston VA’s new Facebook to offer feedback about VA health care programs and services, ask general questions about the facility and navigating the VA system, and request information about events or news. Using Facebook instead of the telephone can eliminate frustrations with voice mail and make getting answers to questions easier and faster.
“Veterans of all eras are depending on us to get the right information to the right person at the right time,” said Nikki Verbeck, social media specialist. “With more troops returning home, we also have a responsibility to connect with the thousands of Servicemembers who have been—and will be—entering our system. They’re using social media, so that’s where we need to be. Facebook helps us do that.”
VA Facebook sites are not appropriate for posting personally identifiable information, personal health information, specific health questions, or appointment information. Veterans can communicate directly with their health care providers using a new, secure, online tool called “Secure Messaging” available through the VA’s MyHealtheVet website at www.myhealth.va.gov.
Any comments containing vulgar language, personal attacks of any kind, or offensive comments that target or disparage any individual or group will be removed. Spam and remarks that are clearly off topic, advocate illegal activity, promote particular services, products, or political organizations, or infringe on copyrights or trademarks will also be deleted.
While VA clinicians will not discuss the specific health concerns of individual Veterans on Facebook, that does not prevent staff from monitoring VA’s sites closely each day—and providing helpful information to Veterans when they can. In the last year, for instance, VA’s Crisis Line counselors have successfully intervened on Facebook in cases where Veterans have suggested suicidal thoughts or presented with other emotional crises.
The Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center currently only has about 120 Facebook fans, but hopes word-of-mouth and publicity will quickly increase this number. The facility also plans to create a Twitter account in the near future.
To “like” the DeBakey VA’s Facebook page, visit http://www.facebook.com/HoustonVAMC.
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Awarded re-designation for Magnet Recognition for Excellence in Nursing Services in 2008, the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center serves as the primary health care provider for more than 130,000 veterans in southeast Texas. Veterans from around the country are referred to the MEDVAMC for specialized diagnostic care, radiation therapy, surgery, and medical treatment including cardiovascular surgery, gastrointestinal endoscopy, nuclear medicine, ophthalmology, and treatment of spinal cord injury and diseases. The MEDVAMC is home to a Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Clinic; Network Polytrauma Center; an award-winning Cardiac and General Surgery Program; Liver Transplant Center; VA Epilepsy and Cancer Centers of Excellence; VA Substance Abuse Disorder Quality Enhancement Research Initiative; Health Services Research & Development Center of Excellence; VA Rehabilitation Research of Excellence focusing on mild to moderate traumatic brain injury; Mental Illness Research, Education and Clinical Center; and one of the VA’s six Parkinson’s Disease Research, Education, and Clinical Centers. Including the outpatient clinics in Beaumont, Conroe, Galveston, Houston, Lufkin, Richmond, and Texas City, MEDVAMC outpatient clinics logged almost 1.3 million outpatient visits in fiscal year 2011. For the latest news releases and information about the MEDVAMC, visit www.houston.va.gov.