Jason Saleem Plays Role in VA’s COVID-19 Response

April 10, 2020

Dr. Jason Saleem, Assistant Professor in Industrial Engineering at Speed School, is working closely with the U. S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to ensure Veterans receive the medical care they need while hospitals are overrun with Coronavirus cases.

As part of a contract awarded with Cognitive Medical Systems, announced in a December 2019 press release, Saleem and his PhD student and protégé Jacob Read are supporting the VA Office of Connected Care to help leverage ways to access Veterans through virtual care technologies.

The “Annie App” is one of the tools in the arsenal for the VA’s COVID-19 response, said Saleem.  “The needs have evolved pretty rapidly with COVID-19.  In some VA medical centers, primary care clinics are being repurposed to assist with COVID-19 admissions,” he said.

“Once a Veteran is registered and connected through a provider to use the Annie App, however, we can provide care through virtual tools,” he said. “That way, Veterans who are otherwise relatively healthy may not need to come into the VA medical centers where they are at greater risk for contracting this virus,” said Saleem.

Veterans can connect with the Annie App through a smart phone or computer and will have text messaging capabilities. The provider can assign actual health protocols based on the patient’s medical conditions such as high blood pressure or diabetes.  There is also a protocol for coronavirus precautions that can be assigned through the Annie App, which can help the Veteran monitor symptoms and can advise the Veteran when to contact their VA care team or a nurse triage line.

Working with the VA Office of Connected Care, Saleem and his student are using their human factors engineering expertise to help streamline the registration process for the Annie App. “The clinicians have complained the enrollment process takes too long, and for providers every second counts. If it takes too long, they might not use it, and the VA really wants to increase adoption of the Annie App. Our challenge is, ‘How do we streamline that process,’” said Saleem.

They have mobilized quickly for this project, he said, talking to a sample of VA clinicians who use the Annie App with prescribing privileges as well as nurses.

“My partner at VA will Skype with a clinician about to enroll a patient so she can see with her own eyes the enrollment process and identify potential barriers or frustrations.,” said Saleem.

The bottom line is helping Veterans continue to receive vital ongoing medical care while avoiding risk of exposure to the virus.

Saleem and Read are committed to the research behind this work, connecting with other teams using virtual care tools and developing best practices. “We want to develop questions that elicit helpful information,” said Read, who takes a personal pride in working with the VA since his grandfather is a Veteran. “We talk about it frequently with my grandfather, but he’s not the most tech-savvy.” That makes Saleem and Read’s effort to simplify the Annie App process that much more important for the high-risk, older segment of the Veteran population.

Saleem emphasized that he and Read are playing a peripheral role in the VA’s large COVID-19 response. “With the Annie App we are part of a very large team, but it feels great to be involved in this effort,” he said.

“Making these virtual care tools as easy to use as possible is critically important,” said Saleem. “It feels good to do something tangible. With COVID-19, nothing else really seems to matter right now. If we’re able to do work that relates in some way to this pandemic, we have a greater sense of purpose.”