In the past, the term artificial intelligence, or AI, sounded like something that you would read about in a science fiction novel or watch on TV. Now, AI technologies are driving very real advances in disciplines like medicine and data analysis. To use the power of AI to benefit Veterans, VA created the National Artificial Intelligence Institute (NAII), in 2019. The new institute is tasked with bringing cutting-edge computer science to solve some of VA’s most pressing challenges.
One way the NAII uses AI to improve Veterans’ health care is through the AI Tech Sprints. As the name implies, the tech “sprint” quickly identifies and addresses an area of interest within VA – using AI-enabled technology and data – by bringing together groups from private industry and government over a period of months rather than years. The sprint allows for multiple perspectives that can lead to new prototypes that will advance solutions to benefit Veterans and others.
`The only way to move forward’
Throughout the tech sprint, teams have unique access to in-house experts, useful feedback from VA clinicians and staff, and novel datasets. At the end of each sprint, projects are recognized at a “Demo Day” event, in Washington, D.C., with awards for top performers and potential opportunities for ongoing collaboration with VA.
Dr. Gil Alterovitz, director of artificial intelligence, leads the NAII. He has been an integral part of the AI Tech Sprints – driving industry collaboration and mentoring new innovators. “Given how health care is evolving,” Alterovitz told VA Research Currents, “AI is really the only way to move forward in terms of reducing costs and providing better care. AI is key to really taking advantage of data to help Veterans and potentially others, as well.”
The 2020 tech sprint is currently open to new teams. Interested teams should complete the short application on the NAII website. For more information on the sprint process, a handbook has been released that enables offices across VA and other agencies to replicate the voluntary incentivization framework.
Helping Veterans not served by VA
Each year, the tech sprint is focused around a theme, although participants are not limited to work in that area. The 2020 AI Tech Sprint, which opened Nov. 1, focuses on interventions for Veterans not currently served by VA. There are 17.4 million Veterans who live in the U.S., but only 9 million of those Veterans are enrolled in VA’s health care system. Through the tech sprint, VA aims to reach out and engage these Veterans to help promote their well-being, enhance their health care, and monitor chronic health conditions.
Teams participating in the 2020 tech sprint will have access to a dataset of synthetic patient files called SynVA. VA researchers generated SynVA by establishing over 200 patient archetypes representing 11 million patients recorded by the VA electronic health record. From there, 1 million synthetic patient records, representative of VA, were generated.
The synthetic patients may exhibit the top 1,000 clinical conditions documented globally (using SNOMED codes), and have full associated records, including visits, procedures, measurements such as lab values, and drug exposures. By simulating VA-representative patients, the synthetic data facilitates sharing this data during the tech sprint while protecting the privacy of actual patients.
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