VA to launch artificial intelligence contest to help health care staff

by Tommy Grant

Veterans Affairs leaders will launch a $1 million competition focused on artificial intelligence solutions to preventing burnout among department health care workers as part of the White House’s new focus on the potentials and pitfalls of the technology.

The announcement of the initiative came during VA’s annual Office of Healthcare Innovation and Learning conference and less than a day after President Joe Biden signed a new executive order on developing guidelines and guardrails for artificial intelligence.

In a statement, Under Secretary for Health Dr. Shereef Elnahal said the new AI Tech Sprint competition will provide potential solutions to current workforce issues.

“Artificial intelligence 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,” Elnahal said. “This effort will reduce burnout among our clinicians and improve veteran health care at the same time.”

Officials said that firms participating in the competition should focus on tools that will perform tasks such as taking notes or more easily accessing patients’ medical records during medical appointments. The $1 million in prize money will be divided among multiple winners.

Earlier this year, VA leaders held a similar $20 million competition — dubbed Mission Daybreak — designed to help spur new innovations in approaches to veteran suicide prevention.

VA health care leaders have focused heavily on hiring and retention this year in an effort to keep up with patient workload and reduce stress on the workforce as a whole. In September, Elnahal announced that 54,000 new staffers had been hired in the previous 11 months, matching the department’s fiscal 2023 goal one month early.

Biden’s executive order on artificial intelligence requires developers to share safety test results and other information with the government to ensure that the technology is being built safely and responsibly. The administration has also said it is looking into requiring content developed by AI programs to be labeled as such, to increase public awareness about the source.

More information on the new VA competition will be posted on the department’s web site.

Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.

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