By Carson Hutchinson, Pharm.D., and Samantha Edgar, Pharm.D., PGY1 pharmacy residents, Aleda E. Lutz VA Medical Center, Saginaw
Whole Health is an approach to healthcare that empowers and equips patients to take charge of their health and well-being and live their life to the fullest.1 It involves focusing on the person as a whole including their well-being, self-care, complementary therapies and medical care. All medical professionals should be involved in order to have a successful Whole Health implementation. This includes physicians, pharmacists, nurses, dietitians, mental health professionals, chaplains and any other team member, all working for the patient’s goals.3 Whole Health is a complete shift in culture at the Veteran Affairs.
Through Whole Health, patients are encouraged to become a more active partner in their healthcare plans and empower them to improve their health.1 Along with current health issues the patient is facing, the mission of Whole Health also includes preventative care to lower future disease risk and the focus is to increase longevity of high quality life.
Patients are generally seen in the clinic only a few times a year for a limited amount of time at each visit. Due to this, it is imperative for patients to build and practice routine self-care skills between visits. In Whole Health, self-care skill areas include: working your body, surroundings, personal development, food and drink, recharge, family, friends and co-workers, spirit and soul and power of the mind.1 Patients are encouraged to start by focusing on two or three of these areas and then expand further.2 The Personal Health Plan (Figure 1) is a necessary tool within Whole Health and allows patients to map out their goals with their providers.2 It is personalized, proactive and patient driven, and it links self-care, professional care and community care.
Figure 1: Personal Health Plan (from the VHA Office of Patient Centered Care & Cultural Transformation)
Because Whole Health is a complete shift in culture at the Veteran Affairs, it is necessary to have all healthcare providers educated properly. Aleda E. Lutz Veterans Affairs Medical Center was selected to be a flagship facility for Whole Health integration. Initial intensive training involved select clinicians who became leaders and coaches for Whole Health. Thereafter, all employees received half-day trainings which continue at this time. Training objectives include gaining an understanding of the vision of Whole Health, enhancing resilience and innate healing, collaborating with veterans to find proactive opportunities that support a healing response, mindful awareness and changing the conversation clinicians have with veterans to be grounded with what matters to the Veteran in his/her life.1
As an easily accessible healthcare professional, pharmacists can play a crucial role in aiding a patient through Whole Health. Medication counseling is an opportunity to teach patients the purpose, benefit and importance of their medications. This means going deeper than simply stating “this medication is for your heart,” but to actually explain its mechanism, expanding on other benefits this medication can provide and why certain side effects or drug interactions may occur. In turn, patients will have the knowledge to feel better equipped to take charge of their health, becoming more active participants in making their Personal Health Plan a reality.
It takes all medical professionals to support Whole Health. Amongst these medical professionals, pharmacists are equipped for this culture change. Each patient and their journey toward Whole Health is different, and it is important to be able to aid these patients however necessary.
- U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs. Whole Health: Information For Veterans. http://projects.hsl.wisc.edu/SERVICE/veteran-materials/new/WHItStartsWithMe_508.pdf.
- U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs. Passport to Whole Health. http://projects.hsl.wisc.edu/SERVICE/key-resources/Passport%20to%20WH,%203rd%20edition,%202018%20FINAL.pdf.
- U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs. VHA Whole Health: Personalized Health Planning Staff Guide. http://projects.hsl.wisc.edu/SERVICE/key-resources/VA%20Whole%20Health%20-%20Personalized%20Health%20Planning%20Staff%20Guide.pdf.