Suicide prevention — Taking veteran care from good to great

We need to continue to build on technological improvements and ensure they are deployed at every VA facility. That is how the care every veteran deserves can go...

The Department of Veterans Affairs has the awesome privilege of delivering care for millions of our country’s Veterans. They deliver on this mission every day. However, to ensure the delivery of highly reliable care, particularly for veterans – such as those at high risk for suicide – we must continue to empower VA employees by equipping them with advanced tools capable of providing the right information at the precise moment it is needed.

All too often, the knee jerk reaction to addressing challenges we face in healthcare is deploying a human only solution. When caseloads increase, we simply should add more people, right? But what about taking steps to enable each of us to work more efficiently?

Organizations that stop at “staffing up” in their problem-solving process are missing additional follow-on opportunities that can yield significant benefits. Humans are not infallible; we are just not wired to carry out repetitive actions perfectly, every day of every year.

Software does not have the same limitations as humans. Software doesn’t get distracted or interrupted and software is extremely adept at executing repeated actions methodically with near perfection. Because of this, when humans and machines collaborate, this can truly pave the way to high reliability, efficiency and improvements in productivity and outcomes.

As such, software enabled processes will be increasingly important to those VA facilities embarking on the journey from good to great, particularly as the VA as a whole is increasingly focused on becoming a high reliability organization.

The Importance of Data Analytics and Visualization

In some healthcare systems today, providers have no way of knowing which of their patients has a new result available without opening the patient’s chart. This leads to time delays between new insight and needed action. In other healthcare systems, it’s the opposite challenge – providers are overwhelmed with alerts that are not curated, and this leads to alert fatigue and the drowning out of the subset of items that are actually important.

To be quickly recognizable, data and analytics are often best presented via data visualization tools that permit important trends in operating statistics and the status of a patient care to be easily identified, monitored and tracked. Providing the right information in a format where the conclusions are readily apparent, in a timely manner, can have a material impact on outcomes and the likelihood that the next step in management is carried out.

It is also ideal to present such actionable insights along with a means of initiating and taking the most likely next action that is needed. Think, for example, about a message reporting a critical abnormal lab result to a provider along with a button that can be pressed to automatically have the patient called and the provider paged when the patient is on the line. In marketing this is often referred to as a call to action (CTA).

The goal of a CTA is to provide compelling and persuasive content to encourage content consumers to take a specific action. Marketers track their conversion rates – how often the CTA leads to the desired outcome – and researchers and experts in the field accumulate a vast knowledge of what works. What marketers know is that all these details matter and impact conversion rates.

What if solutions deployed in healthcare underwent the same scrutiny, study, rigor and thought? If we spent the time and invested the resources to do this more routinely for systems used in healthcare, this could have a massive impact on ensuring certain important actions get taken with high reliability.

How Better Software Drives Great Care: Suicide Prevention

According to data from the VA, on average, 20 veterans commit suicide each day. One major challenge facing suicide prevention is care coordination for veterans at high risk for suicide, as it is not easy to carry out with perfection.

Suicide prevention care pathways are typically initiated to optimize high risk veteran care and the care called for is tracked and monitored to ensure compliance and to identify any lapses. If at any time the care deviates from the care pathway, something may need to be done and someone may need to intervene. This tracking of suicide prevention care is an area that is ripe for human-machine collaboration.

Software-enabled suicide prevention care coordination is needed and our veterans deserve it. Suicide prevention coordinators need access to solutions integrated into the VA hospital information systems that are designed specifically for the work these individuals do for our nation’s heroes.

The software must have access to real-time data and cannot be unnecessarily reliant on data that is 24 to 48 hours old, such as that available from the VA clinical data warehouse. In suicide prevention care, hours and seconds matter. Fortunately, those tools are available today and some VA facilities have already started adopting them.

Improvements in software applications and data analytics have allowed the VA to do things in care delivery that would have seemed impossible just a few years ago. We need to continue to build on these technological improvements and ensure they are deployed at every VA facility. That is how the care every veteran deserves can go from good to great.

Dr. David LaBorde has over 20 years of experience in healthcare and technology and has worked with healthcare provider organizations helping them with strategy, workflow standardization, achieving transparency into their operations, and improving their quality of care and operating performance. Dr. LaBorde previously worked for McKinsey & Company where he focused on providing advisory services to healthcare provider organizations. He has an MBA from Harvard Business School, an MD from Yale School of Medicine, a BS in Engineering from Georgia Tech and a Georgia Medical License. Click here for more information.

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