By Michael Norris, Pentagram Assistant EditorMay 15, 2012
To better educate health professionals in the military on combat-related stress and injuries the Defense Center of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury, headquartered in Crystal City, Va., has instituted a series of monthly webinars that bring various government agencies together to share information on the latest advances in treatment.
"One of our missions here at DCoE is to help providers. Not only our servicemembers and leaders, but specifically providers in terms of empowering them; giving them the resources and tools they need to address the issues of our servicemembers with psychological health and traumatic brain injury concerns," explained Lolita O'Donnell, deputy director of outreach for DCoE, a Department of Defense organization.
"There's a lot in the literature out there that talks about traumatic brain injuries, but … there's not a whole lot about mild TBI related to blast injuries," O'Donnell said. "We have mild TBI from household accidents and from car accidents, but if you're talking about deployed servicemembers, their mild TBI is different because it's not a one-time thing.
"Repeated exposure -- that's the issue we're trying to deal with," she said. "It's totally different from the TBI we know from car accidents and home accidents. Nobody knows the cumulative effect of constant exposure to blast injuries. We are trying to work on that. We don't know what the answer is in all those things."
One of DCoE's stated goals is to help servicemembers and Families build a "culture of resilience" by cultivating a set of actions and attitudes that prepare individuals and groups for adapting to challenging situations and realizing their potential for growth.
DCoE has begun offering continuing education credits for health care professionals who sign up for the webinars, helping them keep current in their field and boosting participation in the webinars.
"We're not just focusing on TBI, we're focusing on TBI and PTSD and psychological health," said O'Donnell. "By elevating it to the level where we are issuing CEUs, there are certain requirements [DCoE has stipulated] before you can have a webinar. That means your speakers have to be subject matter experts; they have to really know what they're talking about. They have to present credentials in order to be accepted … to speak at the webinar.
"It used to be that we didn't have a lot of providers participating in our webinars. But because we're offering CEUs, the providers are really engaged," she added.
"As a nurse, doctor, physical therapist, social worker, providers have to have at least 24 continuing education units every year. If DCoE is providing that free monthly -- like 1.5 credits monthly -- you will [accumulate] at least 15 or 16. This is a good bonus to our providers," O'Donnell said. "It's connecting with them because there's a forum for questions and answers once the webinar is over, which is very important."
In 2012, DCoE moved to a new online platform for its webinars and as a result participation has increased exponentially. Participants in October and November 2011 were 135 and 105, respectively. For the first three months in 2012, the numbers have been 491, 699, and 471.
O'Donnell said she is pleased with the growth of the webinars as another forum for educating professionals and the public about DCoE issues.
"We started with something pretty much like a conversation with people … to discuss whatever webinar topic we had," the director said. "Now we have elevated it to a level where we're bringing in experts in DoD, [Veterans Affairs], and academia. We're engaging [the National Institutes of Health], our fellow partners -- that really makes it credible."
O'Donnell said the webinars help support the interagency collaboration President Barack Obama talks about. "DoD should not just be talking to itself about things," she said. "We need to reach out to all of the providers, not just within DoD, but the outside providers. Most of the guard and reservists have civilian jobs. After deployment they're going to go back to their civilian jobs. It behooves DoD to reach out to its civilian partners as well, to make sure the civilian partners are aware of the issues that are unique to deployment when it comes to [psychological health] and TBI."
Putting the online forums together is a collaborative process, O'Donnell said.
"When we plan webinars, we do it as a group effort," she said. "We provide [participants] historical data on where we have been in terms of the topics in the past and what kind of lessons learned we've had from the interaction with webinar participants."
O'Donnell said DCoE has made Interactive Customer Evaluation a part of the webinars. "Asking the questions 'What was your experience? What topics could we do in the future?' will only make the program stronger," she said.
DCoE serves as a kind of clearinghouse for information on the treatment of TBI, PTSD and psychological health of military servicemembers. "That helps us reach out to our federal partners," O'Donnell said.
"Before DCoE was created there were over 400 recommendations as to what DoD should do about PH and TBI," she explained. "One of the recommendations from the DoD Mental Health Task Force was … DoD should implement an anti-stigma public education campaign using evidence-based techniques to provide factual information about mental health conditions.
"We can accomplish that through the webinars," she said. "We are informing people of the latest evidence-based practice. It's an answer to some of the recommendations from the Mental Health Task Force."
"As we plan our webinars, we look at the themes that DoD is promoting during the months so we align with that," said O'Donnell. "We pattern our webinars based not only with what's going on in DoD but what's going on in the outside world."
The topic last month, for instance, was "Children of Deployed Parents: Health Care Provider Strategies for Enhancing Coping Skills," which tied in nicely with April being The Month of the Military Child.
Previous topics in the webinar series have included "Addressing Alcohol Misuse Among Service Members: The SBIRT Model," and "Treating Sleep Problems in PTSD and TBI." These programs are downloadable through the DCoE archives. Topics tentatively scheduled to be addressed later this year include "Domestic Violence, Aggression and PTSD" and "Vision and Hearing Related to TBI."
The webinar is a place where servicemember providers can network with other providers, O'Donnell stressed.
"When we do outreach work, it's not just DCoE talking about DCoE," she said. "The work is being done by so many other external and internal entities. We want to bring them to the table and showcase those contributions and let everyone know about it. That makes DoD more accessible and credible."
O'Donnell said webinar speakers provide presentation slides to DCoE which are posted on the website before the scheduled webinar, so participants can download the material and become familiar with it before the session.
She also tasks the DCoE team to identify resources and tools that are relevant to the webinar topic that particular month, with those resources and tools posted on the website before the webinar.
"It becomes very interactive... It allows providers time to reflect on things that they are not clear about," O'Donnell said. "It gives them the opportunity to ask the questions that are not included on the slides. People who participate will have a better understanding, a more comprehensible understanding of what's already out there on this topic."
The next DCoE webinar is scheduled to take place Thursday May 24 from 1 to 2:30 p.m. and is titled "Treating Depression in Primary Care." For more information on future topics, to access past programs or to register for the next webinar, visit www.dcoe.health.mil/Training/MonthlyWebinars.aspx.