With each buzz on their cellphones, veterans can get closer to their health goals by having “Annie,” a virtual, automated nurse, remind them to put out their cigarettes, go for a walk, or check their blood pressure levels.
“Annie’s kind of like a nurse that you have in your pocket,” said Neil Evans, chief officer of VA’s Office of Connected Care, which created the Annie program. “She’s able to deliver messages to remind veterans about the care plan that they’ve worked out with their VA care provider.”
[ACCESS ANNIE: Click Here to Learn More]
Annie, developed through international collaboration, is an automated text messaging service that broadcasts messages to veterans based on care plans they have established with their providers. About 7,000 veterans use Annie text messages.
The system is named for Lt. Annie G. Fox, Army Nurse Corps, the chief nurse at Hickam Field during the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, and the first woman to receive the Purple Heart for combat. She’s modeled after a British program called Flo, named for Florence Nightingale, who founded modern nursing.
Annie offers a personalized, familiar tone that can be more motivating that scribbling a note on a calendar or setting an alert on a cellphone, Evans said. And she not only sends a reminder message, she reinforces why it’s important as part of their veteran’s health goals.
“Patients feel more connected with their health care team,” Evans said. “This isn’t just a text message reminder; there’s ability to have that two-way interchange.”
VA leaders have already noted the success of veterans who choose to use Annie.
In a Hepatitis C study, patients using the program reported a higher rate of taking medications than those who did not receive Annie reminders. In another study, veterans with sleep apnea who receive Annie reminders to use a CPAP machine reported better sleep than veterans who don’t receive Annie reminders.
“We are starting to see some studies looking at this intervention and measuring the outcomes,” Evans said.
Another advantage of the Annie system is its ability to quickly add new protocols or illnesses, empowering the veteran to take charge of their health. When COVID-19 became concerning, the VA team added coronavirus protocols so that Annie could send messages to veterans with symptoms related to the virus and how to get in touch with health care providers.
[SHARE YOUR STORY: Have You Been Affected by COVID-19? Tell Us More]
Evans said he anticipates Annie’s capabilities will expand over the next few years.
For veterans, the Annie system is easy to use and offers a familiar tone, like a message from a friend. For health care providers, it provides opportunities to customize care plans, such as sending reminders ahead of a colonoscopy appointment.
“This is a way to tailor care and engage patients,” Evans said. “It enhances the relationship with veterans, the VA and their providers to lead to better health care outcomes.”
Veterans can get Annie messages sent to their cellphones by enrolling online or though their provider. There is no fee to use Annie.