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Increasing the Use of Data Science in U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Centers

Robbie Barbero and Noemie Levy

Last week, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced a new program aimed at improving patient outcomes through data science. In order to continue to deliver cutting-edge health care to our nation’s Veterans, VA launched the Big Data Scientist Training Enhancement Program (BD-STEP). BD-STEP will draw on the expertise of highly skilled data-scientists-in-training to facilitate the execution of large-scale system changes in clinical care to expeditiously improve patient outcomes.

As continued advancements in biomedical technologies generate an increasing amount of patient data, administration of patient-centered care will depend, in part, on the ability to harness relevant insights from this data. Using clinical and other health data to understand disease and wellness, as well as the best treatment and prevention options for individual patients, is critical for improving care. That’s why earlier this year, President Obama announced the launch of the Precision Medicine Initiative (PMI) – a bold new research effort to revolutionize how we improve health and treat disease, which relies on the use of big data and a highly skilled workforce that is able to apply data science to patient care. BD-STEP complements efforts like the PMI by aiming to train a new generation of “hybrid” clinician scientists that will utilize data science to develop innovative methods for improving health care.

Launched as a collaboration between the VA and the National Cancer Institute’s Center for Strategic Scientific Initiatives, BD-STEP will enable the next generation of patient-centered outcomes research by placing data-scientists-in-training who can analyze and understand large-scale, multi-element patient data sets in VA Medical Centers, where they will develop new algorithms and models that have the potential to redefine the way care is delivered.

Six VA Medical Centers have been selected for this first pilot year of BD-STEP: Boston, Buffalo, Durham, Houston, Palo Alto and Seattle. Each site will host two data scientists, who will have the opportunity to work on-site at the VA Medical Centers under the mentorship and supervision of VA clinician scientists so that they can begin to understand the mechanics of a health-care delivery system.

We applaud the VA and its partners for their commitment to improving patient outcomes through data science and their ongoing efforts to improve health outcomes across the country.

Robbie Barbero is Assistant Director for Biological Innovation at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

Noemie Levy is Senior Policy Advisor for Partnerships at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.