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Smarter use of military health data

The Defense Department's Defense Health Agency is using machine learning to solve its interoperability challenges.

The massive, closed health care systems manages 9 million beneficiaries, and data related to medications and medical encounters information is commonly shared.

“But we have an abundance of data islands where you can’t made connections because of scrubbing and cleaning and not having the right stakeholders at the table,” said Alan Sim, interim chief of the Data Discovery and Research Branch in the DHA Enterprise Intelligence and Data Solutions Program Management Office

Machine learning has been used to help multiple DOD agencies make sense of large amounts of data, according to Sim told the audience at the April 19 ACT-IAC Health Innovation Day.

One area where DHA has made progress is with the development of a registry of patient-level opioid information.

“Sometimes, we come in with preconceived notions about the factors that drive various opioid-related outcomes,” Sim told GCN.  “Data-driven machine learning can uncover some insights and patterns that you didn’t really think about before." The knowledge gained from that analysis, he said, "will allow other groups to do a deeper dive and get some insights.”

Similar interoperability issues challenge the nation’s largest health care provider, the Department of Veterans Affairs.  The VA has access to patient health records on millions of individuals, but much of that information is in disparate, siloed data environments.

The department is working to share information with the larger healthcare community through its Lighthouse Lab.  The open application programming interface management platform makes it easier for VA to share data with third parties and spur innovation.

The VA demonstrated other tools that have helped improve the veteran's experience:

The Light Electronic Action Framework was used to coordinate schedules of health care staff in areas affected by the 2017 hurricane season. Through the web-based application -- originally designed to streamline day-to-day processes, such as travel and tuition reimbursement -- the VA was able schedule over 6,000 hours of clinical time by 300 VA clinicians in 18 specialties.

Recovery Engagement and Coordination for Health – Veterans Enhanced Treatment program analyzes existing data from veterans’ health records to identify those at a high risk for suicide, hospitalization, illness or other adverse outcomes, allowing the VA to provide pre-emptive care. As of February 2018, around 6,500 veterans at risk of suicide have identified through the program, allowing the department to intervene and offer appropriate care.

eScreening Implementation Manager captures real-time patient data and integrates it directly with medical records. Veterans can enter personal information that providers can use to track real-time outcomes.

About the Author

Sara Friedman is a reporter/producer for GCN, covering cloud, cybersecurity and a wide range of other public-sector IT topics.

Before joining GCN, Friedman was a reporter for Gambling Compliance, where she covered state issues related to casinos, lotteries and fantasy sports. She has also written for Communications Daily and Washington Internet Daily on state telecom and cloud computing. Friedman is a graduate of Ithaca College, where she studied journalism, politics and international communications.

Friedman can be contacted at sfriedman@gcn.com or follow her on Twitter @SaraEFriedman.

Click here for previous articles by Friedman.


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