VA’s patient survey data helps identify suicide risks

David Shulkin
With suicide prevention as a top priority, the VA is integrating data from postcare surveys to identify at-risk veterans.

The Department of Veterans Affairs is using data gleaned from postappointment surveys to identify veterans at risk for suicide and funnel them to the appropriate resources.

Through a partnership with a technology company that administers the survey to veterans, the VA can siphon off patients who exhibit suicidal thoughts or could be at risk for homelessness, according to NextGov. The platform redirects those patients to existing VA task forces for follow-up care.

With the average suicide rate among veterans hovering at approximately 20 per day, VA Secretary David Shulkin said veteran suicide is “a national public health crisis” and his “top clinical priority.”

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At the same time, the VA is embracing technology as a means of driving those statistics down. Earlier this year the agency announced a new partnership with the Department of Energy, allowing it to feed two decades worth of veteran health and genomic data into supercomputers to identify treatment options for suicide prevention and other chronic illnesses. In the past, the VA has also tested the use of algorithms on EHR data to identify patients exhibiting suicidal thoughts.

Earlier this month, Shulkin announced a new initiative to bring telehealth to veterans around the country by easing restrictions preventing providers from practicing across state lines and rolling out a new mobile app. Shulkin said the new approach could be particularly helpful in addressing suicide prevention and mental health among veterans. 

In a speech before the American Legion on Wednesday, President Donald Trump boasted about the administration's efforts to reform VA healthcare by reducing wait times and expanding mental health services. Trump has repeatedly highlighted improvements to the VA during his short time in office. In a speech last month, he referenced the agency's decision to replace VistA with an off-the-shelf Cerner platform, describing a system that is "fixed, finally, after all these years."