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VHA Data Infrastructure Lays Foundation to Ask Big Questions

October 29, 2020

The robust data sets needed to properly power research can be hard to come by, especially in the case of prospective and epidemiological studies. The Veterans Health Administration (VHA) is emerging as a reliable and extensive data cache for researchers who need large, consistent cohorts to answer probing questions with innovative research approaches such as preventing Veteran suicide.

The validity and fidelity of research data, however, rely on proper regulatory processes and oversight. That ensures, not only the integrity of the data and its usefulness to researchers, but also that all Veterans who choose to participate in research at VHA benefit from appropriate review, safety, privacy and compliance, says Aptive Program Director Abby Rosenberg.

In Fall 2020, Aptive began a partnership with VHA Office of Research Protections, Policy, and Education (ORPP&E) within the Office of Research and Development to make VA’s more than 7,000 annual research studies as safe as possible for Veteran participants.

“The analysis will ensure Veterans health and safety is of primary concern, personal identifying information is protected and processes are in place to protect Veterans should a study identify an adverse effect in the course of the research,” Rosenberg said. The partnership will also streamline policies for VA research participants who join studies run by research universities and hospitals who work with VA researchers or in affiliated medical centers.

This project reflects Aptive’s growing portfolio in regulatory, research and evaluation capabilities across the federal health domain. Our team of healthcare analysts, regulatory experts and program managers bring together detail-oriented analytics along with the vision to take that state-of-the-art investigatory infrastructure and apply it in an innovative way.

Aptive’s involvement in the President’s Roadmap to Empower Veterans and End a National Tragedy of Suicide (PREVENTS) initiative, for example, shows how data can be harnessed and analyzed in a new way to ask questions not just about basic science but also meaningful insights for clinicians. By applying a public health lens to this behavioral concern, researchers and providers can capitalize on a deep understanding of Veteran suicide.

PREVENTS has unveiled risk factors beyond mental health diagnosis that are vital for identifying Veterans most at risk. Financial stress, legal issues and other chronic health conditions are at the top of concerns for Veterans at risk of suicide. Because of PREVENTS, clinicians now know to ask Veterans about these issues specifically, documenting them in health records and connecting them to available resources. And those insights may be just the beginning.

“Through the application of machine learning and natural language processing, we can identify high risk language and early indicators of suicide in patient responses,” says Aptive Director of AI and Machine Learning Mike Nemke. Aptive’s analysis capabilities helped support the holistic design of the PREVENTS framework, while Aptive’s long-standing strategic communications expertise is positioned to disseminate that information to providers across the VHA system, private partner providers and Veteran advocacy groups.

The next steps are expanding on work like the PREVENTS study to help automate the delivery to these insights to the health care industry. “ Not only can we identify indicators, but through robust software and robotic process automation, we can empower VA by automating the sending of that information to appropriate individuals with the capacity, access, and placement to connect with Veterans facing this issue,” Mr. Nemke added.

From this innovative approach to quality health data in the PREVENTS initiative, a comprehensive, clear, and up-to-date picture of Veterans at suicide risk has emerged to help VHA end Veteran suicide with Aptive’s support.

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