EHRs help ID veterans most at risk for suicide

Electronic health records have helped to pinpoint veterans at risk for suicide, according to a new study published in the American Journal of Public Health.

The study's researchers, from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the National Institute of Mental Health, created a suicide risk algorithm using the National Death Index and then by studying the VA patient population from fiscal 2009 through 2011. They then applied it to 3,180 suicide cases and more than 1 million control patients.

They found that the algorithm helped identify people with very high predictions of suicide risk--most of whom had not been previously identified by clinicians. In some cases, the predictive modeling rate was 82 times greater than the rate in the overall sample.   

"As the largest healthcare provider in the U.S., VA has the responsibility to continuously examine how our extensive suicide prevention efforts are working, and to identify critical opportunities for improvement in service to our nation's Veterans," Caitlin Thompson, M.D., deputy director for suicide prevention for VA, said in a statement. "This collaborative effort with NIMH provides us with unprecedented information that will allow us to design and implement innovative strategies on how to assess and care for those veterans who may be at high risk for suicide. This model will advance the care provided to veterans through VA's suicide prevention programs to allow us to better tailor our suicide prevention efforts so that we can ensure that all veterans remain safe."

The researchers also reviewed those identified as high risk for suicide in 2010, and found they had both very high suicide and non-suicide death rates over the next 12 months, indicating that the study could have wider benefit than suicide prevention. The EHR tool may also be helpful in identifying civilians at high risk of suicide.

EHRs continue to demonstrate their value in improving patient safety, identifying patients at high risk for a variety of problems and in reducing errors. The VA has been under the gun in recent months to improve the health care provided after last year's scandal of inordinate wait times for veterans seeking medical treatment.

To learn more:
- read the announcement
- here's the study abstract