Q&A: VA aims to prevent veteran suicides with healthcare technology

With 6,146 veterans who committed suicide in 2020, suicide was the 13th leading cause of death in the overall population and the 2nd leading cause of death among veterans under the age of 45, according to US Department of Veterans Affairs Annual Report 2022.

with l Launched last year, the Daybreak Grand Challenge aims to encourage innovation to provide more mental health support to veterans and eliminate veteran suicides. Last month, it awarded $20 million to 30 winners including behavioral health company NeuroFlow and VR platform OxfordVR.

Dr. Amanda Purnell, Director of Data and Analytics Innovation in the Veterans Health Administration’s Innovation Ecosystem, spoke with MobiHealthNews about the challenge, which received more than 1,300 entries.

MobiHealth news: How were the Mission Daybreak Challenge winners chosen?

Dr. Amanda Purnell: There were a series of criteria set for the judges. There were several of us judges involved. We independently evaluated each of the submissions based on these criteria and then pooled and deliberated on those results and selected the winners based on each of the criteria identified as well as the feasibility and pilotability of these efforts.

We didn’t want to impress the individual judges. We wanted to allow individual expertise for all judges. We have been chosen to be intentionally diverse from areas of background, age, gender, and experience, so that each independent viewpoint is taken into account when judging.

MHN: Why did the challenge coordinators decide to make digital health technologies an area of ​​focus?

Purnell: We were interested in digital health solutions as one of our areas of focus. We were also interested in the community’s efforts. We were interested in efforts that might combine community protocols or interventions along with digital solutions. We didn’t want to narrow the scope unnecessarily. But why we included digital health and digital life data is early research and the innovation indicates that there is new information that can be gleaned from data collected from digital devices as well as data collected via how a person interacts with their digital systems. So that includes laptops, computers and phones. This information can help us better predict and intervene – and perhaps more objectively – to support people in crisis.

MHN: And how long do you think the process will take to provide veterans with access to this technology?

Purnell: This is a very governmental answer. She is honest! We base our decisions on science. So based on these pilot programs and proof of concept efforts and the clinical implementation science that’s being done in tandem, we’ll determine, based on preliminary results, how and at what pace. So really we are evidence based. Suicide is a top clinical priority and has been for some time. So for promising evidence or emerging practices or solutions, some barriers are removed because of the importance of this issue.

MHN: What are you most looking forward to as this progresses?

Purnell: What I actually enjoyed as part of the challenge – I was fortunate enough to be a mentor and referee and facilitate access to the data as well – was seeing the teams work together. What was unique about this challenge, and our goal moving forward, was seeing the enormous benefit of having different people and teams with different backgrounds and areas of expertise, working together to add value to each other’s solutions. This part is really exciting, plus the hundreds of individuals—and I suspect will continue to grow—who volunteer their time as mentors and subject matter experts to help guide these solutions along. So for me, it’s kind of an energy and a zest for optimism that they can have an impact on the problem of suicide and that if we take a brave and bold perspective, that by working together, we can be successful. I think letting that mindset really inspires me.

Mary Kratz will provide more detail during the HIMSS23 session titled “Developing Interoperability Through Open Source Simulation Environments.” It is scheduled for Wednesday, April 19, at 4-5 PM Central Time in the South Building in Room S504.

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