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Data Standards Fuel Personalized Medicine Progress at VA

VA is turning to data standards to improve health care as more veterans use personal health monitoring devices.

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Data Standards Fuel Personalized Medicine Progress at VA
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The Department of Veterans Affairs is leveraging data standards to take advantage of new information coming from smart devices and improve personalized medicine for veterans.

“Our job is to look at where we need to be in health care, not where we’re at,” VA’s Deputy Chief Health Technology Officer Joe Ronzio said during ATARC’s Federal AI & Data Summit in Washington, D.C. Thursday. “We’re constantly trying to figure out where we need to be in five to ten years… When you modernize, you need to be looking to the future of where we need to get ahead, but we’re still using old systems in the majority of health care.”

VA is making new strides in health care partially fueled by new demands from the COVID-19 pandemic, but the agency still faces “antiquated problems.”

“We still need engineers, we still need industry, we still need government and everyone to collaborate together to move this needle so that we can start talking about utilizing the technology completely,” Ronzio said.

Remote monitoring and diagnostics are growing area since the pandemic’s onset, enabling organizations to better deliver virtual health solutions and services. Ronzio said 97% of adults have a cell phone or a smart device in their pocket, and 85% of those devices are smartphones. VA is focusing on consumer-driven technologies and identifying similarities with medical devices to improve data collection and delivery to health care providers.

“At what point is it a medical device versus a consumer device? This is going to be interesting for data gathering as we move forward, because everyone in this room who has any of these devices at home, or on your body 24/7 has more data than any of your medical staff on yourself,” Ronzio said.

As consumers use personal health monitoring devices, Ronzio said there needs to be a greater emphasis on data privacy and protection. VA is also focusing on ethical AI, especially as it relates to health care. As more organizations develop AI-driven solutions, VA is working to mitigate bias to improve personalized health care.

“How do we get to a point of impacting the health of everyone in the United States? How do we drive personalized medicine? Every single analytics platform requires a lot of data,” Ronzio said. “So, we’re not going to get a machine learning algorithm to understand it unless we get a lot of data and a lot of people who want to support these types of initiatives. But that’s not going to be cheap. And, for it to be effective, it needs to help you at the time you need it.”

VA is leveraging interoperability standards, such as Hl7 FHIR, to move the needle for data exchange. Looking at IoT devices and personal health data, the agency is eyeing emerging standards such as the in-development IEEE Standards Association P2795 Standard for Shared Analytics.

“This is this standard so that if we have a data definition for disease, if we have data definitions for your physiology, that we can share any analytic with you so it goes to your own device — whether that be an Android device, an iPhone, or any other type of data concentrated that holds your data — so you can analyze your own data,” Ronzio said. “How do we change the paradigm for how healthcare via works?”

Moving forward, VA will focus on innovating across stem cell research, digital health care, 3D printing, synthetic data and more to personalize and accelerate health care for veterans.

“We’re already seeing a lot of the realm of the possible happening,” Ronzio said. “This is where the money’s going to be: speeding medical research practice…the advantages far outweigh any of the problems.”

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