Electronic Medical Records Hold Clues To Suicide Risk

Mitch Mirkin | Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) | September 5, 2013

Natural language processing — part of the technology that makes Google work — could help VA detect suicide risk among Veterans.

That’s the idea behind ongoing research at the VA Puget Sound Health Care System and the University of Washington, along with other VA sites.

One study used the technology to find past suicide attempts in VA’s electronic medical record system. Past attempts are the most compelling sign of future risk, say researchers — about twice as strong as the next-best predictor, major depression. Studies show that a past suicide attempt raises the odds of an eventual completed suicide by 40 times.

“The electronic medical record system stores a very large body of clinical notes,” explains Ken Hammond, MD. “We’ve shown that we can use search engine technology to more easily identify those Veterans who have attempted suicide at some point in their lives. That can help us prevent future attempts.”