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Lessons Learned From VHA's Rapid Implementation of Virtual Whole Health Peer-Led Groups During the COVID-19 Pandemic: Staff Perspectives.

Anderson E, Dvorin K, Etingen B, Barker AM, Rai Z, Herbst A, Mozer R, Kingston RP, Bokhour B. Lessons Learned From VHA's Rapid Implementation of Virtual Whole Health Peer-Led Groups During the COVID-19 Pandemic: Staff Perspectives. Global advances in health and medicine. 2022 Jan 25; 11(1-12):21649561211064244.

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BACKGROUND: Committed to implementing a person-centered, holistic (Whole Health) system of care, the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) developed a peer-led, group-based, multi-session "Taking Charge of My Life and Health" (TCMLH) program wherein Veterans reflect on values, set health and well-being-related goals, and provide mutual support. Prior work has demonstrated the positive impact of these groups. After face-to-face TCMLH groups were disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, VHA facilities rapidly implemented virtual (video-based) TCMLH groups. OBJECTIVE: We sought to understand staff perspectives on the feasibility, challenges, and advantages of conducting TCMLH groups virtually. METHODS: We completed semi-structured telephone interviews with 35 staff members involved in the implementation of virtual TCMLH groups across 12 VHA facilities and conducted rapid qualitative analysis of the interview transcripts. RESULTS: Holding TCMLH groups virtually was viewed as feasible. Factors that promoted the implementation included use of standardized technology platforms amenable to delivery of group-based curriculum, availability of technical support, and adjustments in facilitator delivery style. The key drawbacks of the virtual format included difficulty maintaining engagement and barriers to relationship-building among participants. The perceived advantages of the virtual format included the positive influence of being in the home environment on Veterans' reflection, motivation, and self-disclosure, the greater convenience and accessibility of the virtual format, and the virtual group's role as an antidote to isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic. CONCLUSION: Faced with the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, VHA pivoted by rapidly implementing virtual TCMLH groups. Staff members involved in implementation noted that delivering TCMLH virtually was feasible and highlighted both challenges and advantages of the virtual format. A virtual group-based program in which participants set and pursue personally meaningful goals related to health and well-being in a supportive environment of their peers is a promising innovation that can be replicated in other health systems.

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