New technology puts the AI in aid for US veterans



As part of their latest endeavor to improve care for our country’s combat vets, the Department of Veterans Affairs has invested in a rapidly advancing form of intelligence: the artificial kind. AI has been hailed by most forecasters as a revolutionary force in all manner of fields, from transportation to predicting the weather, and this exciting wave of possibility promises to transform the healthcare sphere, as well. The opportunity to use this growing tech to improve veteran healthcare has rightfully attracted positive attention to some intriguing new initiatives.

What works for one may be inadequate for another, so planning regimens of care is a frequently complicated endeavor, encompassing a number of variables like sensitivity to medication or cultural values. This complexity has been an obstacle for many years, so the potential for AI to simplify the process has naturally attracted a great deal of attention. This excitement has arisen in the healthcare world as a whole, but is getting serious attention in the halls of the Department of Veterans Affairs as the VA seeks to improve healthcare for those returning home from overseas deployments.

The military population is no stranger to AI. Artificial intelligence has already begun to roll out in combat applications, but it looks to take the leap into health treatment, creating exciting new possibilities for treating and preventing debilitating and fatal diseases in our veteran population. Especially when considering the challenges unique to veterans’ healthcare, this new approach carries hope for more effective and intelligently designed treatment for every veteran who needs it.

Although the VA has shown some hesitation in the past, canceling a heralded deal with AI firm Flow Health, AI-based assessment plans look to be a major aspect of treatment for all Americans moving forward. Thirty-five percent of hospitals plan to implement AI into their regimen of care within the next two years, with that percentage rising to 50 percent within the next five years. What this means for all people, not just veterans, is that AI in mental health treatment is likely to be a major aspect of healthcare in the coming years and beyond.

This growth is bolstered by some extremely positive developments in AI-supported treatment for vets. The problem of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is a well-documented one among our returning fighting force. VA research has found that 80 percent of those who undergo PTSD treatment programs are able to fully recover from this often-debilitating condition. An experiment to incorporate AI into these treatment programs resulted in a 73 percent completion rate, compared to the fewer than 10 percent who normally complete such a course of treatment. For the estimated 300,000+ Iraq and Afghanistan vets afflicted by this case, AI might appear to represent a brighter future.

In improving healthcare through tech, the VA has attracted substantial support from their counterparts at the Department of Energy. The DOE plans to lend support for veteran care in the form of their ultra-powerful supercomputers, bringing Big Data and AI into the VA’s information ecosystem. Using these tools, the VA hopes cutting-edge information technology will assure that no more veterans are left with inadequate treatment. Given everything our service members have done for our country, providing them with the best possible care is something all Americans can get behind.

As they stood at the front lines to defend our freedom, our vets will be at the front line of receiving these innovative new courses of care.

The joint DOE-VA plan has pinpointed several areas to which these 21st century computing solutions will be applied, representing a few of the most crucial areas of veteran care. New breakthroughs can be made in suicide prevention, prostate cancer and cardiovascular disease, eventually creating regimens of treatment informed by the most state-of-the-art assessments available.

The tenth leading cause of death in the U.S., suicide is a sad fact of the veteran population. It’s believed that 20 veterans per day are lost in this tragic fashion. Despite the bravery they’ve shown during their service, many unfortunately suppress their emotional trauma until it’s too late. To tackle this issue, researchers will attempt to create an AI-bolstered assessment program, one that can build patient-specific algorithms to identify behaviors indicating suicidal inclinations. For those at risk, the VA’s Office of Suicide Prevention will execute a clinical plan to reach out and give comprehensive mental health support to prevent downtrodden veterans from making a fatal mistake.

Although women make up a growing cohort of the veteran population, the vast majority remains male — some of whom suffer from prostate cancer, in some cases caused by chemical agents. Unfortunately, treatment of prostate cancer remains an inexact science under present methods. Lethality of the cancer being treated is indeterminable, so sufferers frequently undergo invasive surgeries that end up being unnecessary. Aided by AI and advanced computing, projects under this initiative will determine new hallmarks of prostate cancer, which can be analyzed to identify which are lethal and which are benign. Reducing unnecessary treatments represents a large improvement in quality of life for sufferers, veteran and otherwise.

The fight against cardiovascular disease is another major health area that stands to gain from AI and advanced computing. CVD kills one out of every four Americans, and research shows that PTSD exacerbates its debilitating effects, making heart disease especially worrisome for the veteran population. New tools developed by the DOE/VA initiative will one day be able to more effectively identify previously unknown risk factors, as well as aid in the development of new treatments for heart ailments. When diagnosis and management of the disease are improved, more Americans, veterans and civilians, will enjoy the benefits.

As they stood at the front lines to defend our freedom, our vets will be at the front line of receiving these innovative new courses of care. It’s only right that they will be at the receiving end of these cutting-edge treatments. It may be impossible to fully repay them, but giving them the most forward-thinking treatment is a good start, and one day it’s likely that we’ll all get the benefit. With the VA leading the charge in the AI healthcare revolution, every American can look forward to a brighter, smarter and healthier future.

Featured Image: Tetra Images/Getty Images



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