VA launches $1M AI tech challenge to address clinician burnout – TechToday

As part of continuing efforts to reduce burnout among healthcare workers, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is hosting a 120-day Tech Sprint to develop ambient dictation for clinical encounters, and an advanced document-processing system for its Community Care program. 

That system must be able to export standardized, structured data to the VA’s electronic health records. 


The Department of Veterans Affairs Discovery, Education and Affiliate Networks office, in partnership with the National Artificial Intelligence Institute, SimLEARN and the Office of Primary Care, announced the government-sponsored artificial intelligence challenge this week following the release of the latest AI Executive Order from the Biden Administration.

The AI Tech Sprint for Documenting VA Clinical Encounters and Integrating Community Care Data challenge seeks collaborative teams from academia, industry and nongovernmental organizations to work with VA experts and stakeholders to pioneer burnout-busting innovations to support the agency’s healthcare workers. 

Reducing burnout is a top priority for the VA as the largest integrated healthcare system in the country, according to the agency. Not only is the VA responsible for vast amounts of data, but it says it trains the largest number of nurses and doctors in the United States.

In addition to “hiring employees at record rates,” the VA said in the announcement, employing trustworthy AI is critical to “delivering more care and more benefits to more veterans than ever before.” 

The VA said it needs “high fidelity, traceable records of provider encounters” from a platform that can also interoperate with VA health system information. 

Such an AI-driven platform that can listen and take notes during medical appointments “must also feature a high degree of security, compliant with VA privacy and security standards regarding the protection of patient data,” it said, while generating patient-facing visit summaries and adhering to clinical documentation compliance standards.

The second track is for artificial intelligence that supports documentation for healthcare provided to veterans from community providers and paid for by the agency. Community Care services include emergency medical care, home health and hospice, foreign medical care, fertility treatment for service-connected conditions and more.

The VA said on the challenge’s website that it needs a scalable AI-driven system capable of ingesting diverse sources of Community Care records – ranging from patient encounters to complex medical documents – that highlight significant events from episodes of care and are searchable. 

The system reigning in and integrating Community Care data needs to be engineered to integrate the VA’s CDW Delta Lake and other data sources and “should feature advanced entity recognition and medical text summarization capabilities that comply with VA resources and enterprise technology monitoring systems,” the agency said.

The VA said it needs advanced features like source vetting, and to extract structured data elements that can be integrated into VA’s EHR and Summit Data Platform Health Information Exchange. These structured data elements could include CPT codes, SNOMED CT codes and/or LOINC codes.

Applications close January 5, 2024, and the sprint kicks off on January 26. Both tracks offer a first-place prize of $300,000, $150,000 for second place and $50,000 for third.


Earlier this year, the VA awarded millions for AI-driven innovations that can prevent veteran suicide. 

ReflexAI used AI to help the Veterans Crisis Line train and maintain a team of responders while the Battle Buddy app uses conversational AI and content from VA’s Suicide Safety Planning program for daily check-ins. Stop Soldier Suicide’s Black Box Project developed machine-learning models that can identify previously unknown risk patterns and pair them with evidence-based, suicide-specific intervention services.

The VA’s new tech sprint effort falls under President Biden’s new executive order on Safe, Secure, and Trustworthy Artificial Intelligence, which seeks to mitigate the harms and maximize the benefits of AI for workers.

The actions “are vital steps forward in the U.S.’s approach on safe, secure and trustworthy AI,” the White House said in the executive order. Biden’s order also calls for federal officials to produce a report on AI’s potential labor-market impacts.

“More action will be required, and the Administration will continue to work with Congress to pursue bipartisan legislation to help America lead the way in responsible innovation.”

“AI implemented in a responsible manner has enormous potential to benefit our nation’s veterans, by improving patient care and the trust veterans have in the services they receive,” the VA said on its website.


“AI solutions can help us reduce the time that clinicians spend on non-clinical work, which will get our teams doing more of what they love most: caring for Veterans,” said Dr. Shereef Elnahal, the VA undersecretary for health, in a statement. “This effort will reduce burnout among our clinicians and improve veteran healthcare at the same time.”

Andrea Fox is senior editor of Healthcare IT News.
Email: [email protected]

Healthcare IT News is a HIMSS Media publication.

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