Policy, Health IT

VA uses predictive analytics to prevent suicides, contemplates scrapping VistA EHR

While striving to decrease veteran suicide rates, the Department of Veterans Affairs is considering getting rid of its VistA EHR system.

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Research suggests 20 veterans take their lives every day. This number is far too high.

“One veteran suicide is one too many,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin, according to a press release.

That’s why the VA has launched a program called Recovery Engagement and Coordination for Health — Veterans Enhanced Treatment, or REACH VET. The program isn’t anything new. It initially began as a pilot in October and has now been put into place throughout the VA.

Using data from veterans’ health records, REACH VET relies on a predictive analytics model to peg veterans who are at risk for suicide, illness or hospitalization. A mental health professional or primary care provider then contacts the veteran to assess his or her condition and decide whether additional care is necessary.

“REACH VET is a game changer in our effort to reduce veteran suicide. Early intervention can lead to better recovery outcomes, lessen the likelihood of challenges becoming crises and reduce the stress that veterans and their loved ones face,” Caitlin Thompson, national director of the VA’s Office for Suicide Prevention, said in a statement.

REACH VET comes on the heels of troubles with the VA’s suicide hotline. The problems were recently highlighted in a report by the Office of the Inspector General at the VA, which found that as of last November, nearly 30 percent of incoming calls were rolled over to a backup center. However, on April 4, the VA told lawmakers it had already fixed the hotline problems, according to CBS News.

Meanwhile, the VA is considering whether it will keep its current Veterans Information Systems and Technology Architecture (or VistA) EHR. The EHR system was created internally by the VA. But with critics claiming VistA is outdated and isn’t interoperable, the VA has been contemplating scrapping it for a commercial system.

During the GITEC Summit earlier this week, Acting Assistant Secretary for Information and Technology and Acting CIO Rob Thomas said the VA is “on track” to make a decision about VistA by July 1, according to FCW.com.

The VA is working with Chicago-based Grant Thornton to come to a conclusion. Thomas noted that the VA and Grant Thornton must finish the consulting process “by late May” to ensure there’s enough time to make an informed decision.

“They are developing a detailed and elaborate business case that’s looking at four different courses of action,” Thomas said. “One of those could be divesting VistA to a commercial provider, so it’s a software-as-a-service.” Another option, he said, would be a commercial-off-the-shelf product.

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