With 6,146 veterans taking their own life in 2020, suicide was the 13th leading cause of death among the population overall and the second leading cause of death among veterans under the age of 45, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs 2022 Annual Report.
With its Mission Daybreak Grand Challenge that launched last year, the VA aims to encourage innovation to provide more mental health support to veterans and eliminate veteran suicides. Last month, it awarded $20 million to 30 winners including behavioral health company NeuroFlow and VR platform OxfordVR.
Dr. Amanda Purnell, director of data and analytics innovation with the Veterans Health Administration Innovation Ecosystem, spoke with MobiHealthNews about the challenge, which received over 1,300 submissions.
MobiHealthNews: How were the winners of the Mission Daybreak Challenge chosen?
Dr. Amanda Purnell: There was a series of criteria that was laid out for judges. There were several of us judges involved. We evaluated each of the submissions on this criteria independently and then we came together and deliberated based on those scores and selected the winners, based on both the criteria that was outlined, as well as our feasibility and ability to pilot these efforts.
We didn’t want to influence individual judges. We wanted to allow for the individual expertise of all of the judges. We’re selected to be deliberately diverse from areas of background, age, gender and experience, so that each independent viewpoint would be taken into account in judging.
MHN: Why did the challenge coordinators decide to make one of the focus areas digital health technologies?
Purnell: We were interested in digital health solutions as one of the areas of focus. We were also interested in community efforts. We were interested in efforts that might combine community or interventional protocols along with digital solutions.
We did not want to unnecessarily narrow the scope. But why we included digital health and digital life data is early stage research and innovation is indicating there’s novel information to be gleaned from data that’s gathered from digital devices, as well as data that’s gathered via how a person interacts with their digital systems.
So that includes laptops, computers, phones. And that information could help us to even better – and perhaps more objectively – predict and intervene to support individuals in crisis.
MHN: And how long do you think the process will take to provide veterans access to this technology?
Purnell: This is a very government answer. It’s a truthful one! We base our decisions on the science. So, depending on these pilots, and proof of concept efforts, and the clinical implementation science that’s conducted alongside it, we would determine, based on the initial findings, how and at what speed to scale.
So really we’re evidence-based. Suicide is a top clinical priority, and has been so for some time. So for very promising evidence, emerging practices or solutions, some barriers are removed because of how important this problem is.
MHN: What are you looking forward to most as this moves forward?
Purnell: What I’ve enjoyed actually as part of the challenge – I was fortunate enough to be a mentor and a judge, and I facilitated data access as well – was seeing the teams work together. What was unique about this challenge, and our goal in moving forward, is to see the exponential benefit of differing people and teams from different backgrounds – and with different areas of expertise – working together to add value to one another’s solutions.
This part is really exciting, in addition to the hundreds of individuals – and I suspect that will just continue to grow – who are volunteering their time as mentors and subject matter experts to help guide these solutions along. So for me, it’s kind of the energy and enthusiasm of optimism that it is possible to have an impact on the the problem of suicide – and that if we take a courageous and audacious view, that by working together, we could be successful. Allowing for that mindset, I think, is really inspiring to me.
Mary Kratz will offer more details during her HIMSS23 session “Advancing Interoperability Through Open-Source Simulation Environments.” It’s scheduled for Wednesday, April 19, at 4-5 p.m. CT at the South Building in room S504.