VA using big data to improve health care delivery

Press Release | US Department of Veterans Affairs | March 24, 2016

Program set to develop new generation of “hybrid” clinical data scientists

Using health data to understand disease and wellness as well as the best treatment and prevention options forpatients, is critical for improving care. That’s why VA is partnering with the National Cancer Institute’s Center for Strategic Scientific Initiatives to use “big data” to advance favorable outcomes in patient care.

“Big data” in health care is a term used to describe complex and very large data sets that have evolved since the inception of electronic health records. VA currently has more than 1 billion data points available to assess Veteran health. The pilot initiative called the Big Data Scientist Training Enhancement Program (BD-STEP) will develop programs to train a new generation of “hybrid” clinical data scientists in how to use data sets, algorithms and models – to develop innovative solutions to improve health care delivery.

Pictured above, Dr. James Zadina’s VA-Tulane team tests a drug that may be a safer alternative to opioid painkillers. (Photo by Paula Burch-Celentano)

Traditional data scientists are trained in disciplines such as computer science and applications, modeling, statistics, analytics and math. As health care increasingly moves toward use of big data, it is important to ensure traditional data scientists understand clinical settings and health care operations as they relate to the data they evaluate. BD-STEP proposes to establish this new generation of “hybrid” clinical data scientists to work closely with VA clinicians in the clinical setting.

“Potentially, BD-STEP can redefine care delivery by training clinical data scientists to understand and interpret the rapidly increasing amount of data generated in clinical settings and to utilize the data to directly impact decisions in clinical care,” said Under Secretary for Health Dr. David Shulkin. “Our goal is to grow a trainee’s professional capacity to fully understand the mechanics of VA’s health care delivery system and to use data to enhance Veteran care.”

Six VA Medical Centers are participating in this pilot program: Boston, Massachusetts; Buffalo, New York; Durham, North Carolina; Houston, Texas; Palo Alto, California; and Seattle, Washington. Each site is matched with one to two trainees of renowned academic institutions in the big data field. Current projects include partnerships with Stanford University on “Longitudinal Medical Radiation Exposure and Cancer Risk,” Harvard University to look at the “Diversity in Epidemiological and Genetic Predictors of Onset and Progression of Myeloma,” and the University of Southern California on “Hepatocellular carcinoma prediction models for Hepatitis C Patients.”

BD-STEP also supports the Precision Medicine Initiative, a new research effort by the White House to revolutionize how VA improves health and treats disease. It also represents the first time that VA’s Veteran Health Administration’s Employee Education System, Office of Academic Affiliations and its Office of Research and Development have worked together with NCI’s Center for Strategic Scientific Initiatives to build a program.