News Feature | June 3, 2014

The VA Develops Patient-Generated Data App Playbook, Best Practices

By Megan Williams, contributing writer

Healthcare Data Best Practices At VA

Since last year, the Veterans Health Administration has been eyeing the idea of patient-generated data. The focus reflects an industry-wide move to go beyond data that’s centered around clinician access, and into an era where patients not only drive innovation and service, but also are heavily active in constructing their own data stories.

Data And An Improved Patient Experience

The VA, continuing its commitment to using technology to better the healthcare experience of its patients, is going a step further and taking on the juggernaut of patient generated data directly. According to Kathleen Frisbee, co-director of Connected Health (the VA technology program), “Patient-generated data is going to be the thing that really transforms healthcare. We predict patient-generated data will be much larger in volume than electronic health records. The key for us is to architect it right, make it secure and help people understand how it should be used.”

A Future Of Sensors And Apps

The VA has kicked things off by trying to create order out of the swarm of information generated by sensors, home monitoring devices, and health and wellness apps. The administration is in the process of creating a playbook that provides direction on how to build applications for data collection, information structuring, and rule establishment around when and how that information is shared with clinicians. The department is in the process of creating an app store, and has created an application development cloud (hosted by Terremark) for all public apps — they are insistent upon continuous security scans during the app development process. A few of the pilot apps are near release.

One set is called “The Family Caregiver Suite” and it helps vets track back pain management, PTSD symptoms, prescription refills, and more. The VA will also be piloting a text-message alert system (“Annie”) designed to connect a provider and a patient, through patient-side reminders to take medications, send in diagnostic results, and other health maintenance tasks.

The pilot that will have the most impact on data though, is a wearable patch, designed to send patient biometric data constantly and automatically. The department is still working out the challenge of how to summarize the data for clinical staff and how providers should be alerted to changes.

The ultimate goal of the new approach to data is to improve care, and it’s a sentiment that’s been echoed across the VA.

“The future is PGD – patient-generated data,” says Dr. Susan Woods, director of patient experience for connected health at the Veterans Health Administration. “The voice of the patients and the caregivers has never been louder.”

A Potential Burden To Providers

Frisbee makes sure to point out that they do not want to burden providers with alerts. The department is in the process of creating rules around when providers are required to check the data, and how to make it available during appointments and other interactions with health facilities. A gap still exists between the patient-generated data from apps and sensors, and the architecture and design of the VA’s EHRs (electronic health records).

Going forward, that means that the department and its staff will be figuring out how the collected data fits in the current EHR structure and how to design things in the future.