The Veterans Affairs Department wants to continue its industry partnerships that focus on emerging technology-based deliverables, emphasizing updated agency goals and patient priorities in a new digital healthcare guide published last week.
In the VA’s Digital Healthcare Playbook, officials outlined the digital health care systems and devices it wants to create with the help of industry partners and contractors. The playbook looks to identify the best solutions for VA patient needs within the health care software marketplace by addressing several emerging technologies that are prevalent in digital services, including artificial intelligence, virtual reality, sensor technologies and health care apps..
“This is all about trying to find the best strategy and … eliminate the blockers that exist for [the] VA and private sector to collaborate on digital health,” Arash Harzand, the chief medical advisor for digital health at the Veterans Health Administration Innovation Ecosystem, told Nextgov. Harzand noted the playbook functions as both an industry guide to what the VA wants in new health care technology devices as well as an internal department analysis for the current software landscape.
Officials made the playbook public to answer contractor questions about partnering with the VA on health care software development, as well as to spur public discourse around the future of digital health.
VA’s larger focus is on improving data sharing. Harzand said that both the agency and its industry partners are working on improving accessibility to data from digital health solutions that are in use by patients. A myriad of barriers that prevent more open data exist within VA platforms on the technical, regulatory and policy fronts.
The VA is working to overcome these hindrances and instill efficient health data sharing, particularly, “With how we [the VA] both get access to data from digital health solutions that our patients are using, and how the industry is able to, you know, provide that data to us,” according to Harzand.
One of the more critical data-sharing tools the VA is looking to develop is a digital health platform that Harzand says will help build compatible interfaces that can communicate data more seamlessly. The VA is preparing to partner with leaders in the digital health software development sector to build and scale these technologies across the agency in accordance with the playbook’s recommendations.
“Some of these … partnerships where we’re actually testing integrating devices that our patients are currently using and how that data can come into the VA and become useful to our clinicians to help them guide better decisions,” he said. “We’ll be able to announce some of that very early … work as well.”
Harzand added that AI technologies are becoming more prevalent in industry solutions for improved data processing. With the VHA being the largest integrated health care system in the country, Harzand said that both the agency and private companies have a vested interest in testing AI and machine learning models against the VA’s large volume of data.
Most solutions capable of handling the VHA’s patient data volume involve AI, which Harzand describes as a “centerpiece” of tech solutions.
“We’re trying to be intentional in how we find companies to partner with really, at this point, mostly around kind of testing and validation,” he said. “That kind of underscores the goal with the playbook and really our bigger digital health strategy is, you know, we want for the VA to become a destination for innovation in digital health.”
The playbook was prepared with the help of the Digital Medicine Society, a nonprofit that advocates for innovation in health care technology, to help the VA define its digital health mission to potential industry partners.
“We want to sort of make it clear to the world that the VA is here and wants to collaborate,” Harzand said.