Bringing Artificial Intelligence to the Veterans Health Administration

The Department of Veterans Affairs has received a lot of bad press over the past few years due to inefficiencies in its health care system. These discoveries have resulted in outrage across the nation that men and women who had served the country should be treated so poorly; and that several deaths have occurred as a direct result of these inefficiencies. Due to the exposed problems at the VA, the leadership determined that the system must be restructured and reformed. Data and technology will play a large role in this reformation of the VA, with artificial intelligence playing a significate part.

Artificial intelligence involves the development of computer systems that can make decisions or perform tasks that would normally require human thought. The hope is that using artificial intelligence in conjunction with the Million Veteran Program's genome data will net immense progress toward provision of health care to veterans.

Initially, the VA contracted with Flow Health, Inc. to provide artificial technology initiatives. However, On December 20, 2016, the VA terminated their contract with Flow because the VA determined that they had failed to vet the company properly. They also determined that the agreement violated regulations, VA policy and the VA's commitment to protecting veterans' data. The agreement involved genomic data from the Million Veteran Program (MVP) which involves data from over 500,000 volunteer participants, and it is the largest database of its kind in the world.

The information gained from this collaboration was to be used to train artificial intelligence to predict disease and fight illnesses for over eight million people under the care of the VA.

Currently, the VA in partnership with the Department of Energy is working to improve delivery of health care to Veterans. In April 2017 the VA and the Department of Energy (DOE) professionals and leaders met to devise a plan. They sought to bring together the VA's immense data and the DOE's advanced computing and artificial intelligence as a force for health care advancement for veterans. The agencies seek to advance technology that will result in improvements in both the quality and delivery of health care for veterans.

The partnership between the VA and DOE supports:

Governmental Agency InnovationAdvancement in Healthcare - Scientific AdvancementGovernmentPartnerships

  • Governmental Agency Innovation - through the design and development of DOE's advanced computing work with big data and artificial intelligence.
  • Advancement in Healthcare - through use of supercomputing to better inform treatment options for Veterans to improve results and decrease cost.
  • Scientific Advancement - through a vast team of researchers who specialize in healthcare, artificial intelligence, and big data.
  • Government Partnerships - through interagency collaborations along with the public and private sector partnerships.

Together, the DOEand VA partnership has created the Million Veterans Program Computational Health Analytics for Medical Precision to Improve Outcomes Now or MVP CHAMPION. Under the

MVP CHAMPION, the partnership will create a computing platform that will house and provide MVP data for researchers across the nation and create a big data platform to further future advancements.

The VA has already identified specific areas of concentration as:

Determining Suicide RiskProstate CancerCardiovascular Disease:

  • Determining Suicide Risk: Suicide occurs at a higher rate among Veterans than the general population. Efforts are underway to improve the ability to identify patients at risk.
  • Prostate Cancer: Help doctors distinguish dangerous from benign forms of prostate cancer and reduce the performance of unnecessary surgeries and improve health and quality of life

    for veterans with prostate cancer.
  • Cardiovascular Disease: Advancements in prediction as well as treatment of a cardio-vascular disease which is the number one cause of death among both veterans and the general

    population. This effort will also develop methods to create personalized drug treatment plans.

All of this will require advanced artificial intelligence and big data analysis which will drive the development of DOE technologies in many areas. Success in development of these will have major impacts on DOE goals in many areas including national security.

Major technology companies such as Intel, GM, and NVidia, etc. are important to this effort as well because it has the potential to bring in the private sector collaboration to further the advancements. The project is a complex one that will require coordination between numerous public-private sector entities.

For a better understanding of how all the data and pieces fit together, visual learners will appreciate this graphic from the The Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) which is sponsored by DOE, is one of the partners in this effort to advance health care. They will be providing algorithms or techniques to mine the data more efficiently.

Because of the VA's effort to guard privacy, DOE and the National Laboratory will conduct these activities with utmost care to safeguard all veterans' data given over to them by the VA. MVP-CHAMPION has already collected information from about 560,000 veterans who have voluntarily provided DNA samples; as well as information about their health, lifestyle and military experiences. These volunteers have also granted access to their health records for research purposes. Therefore, security will remain a top priority at DOE and the National Laboratory.

On the surface, the DOE and VA may seem an odd combination. However, the partnership between the VA and the DOE is a positive development. Proponents say that the partnership will allow rapid advancements that would ordinarily have taken 10 to 15 years.