OP-ED CONTRIBUTOR

IT Innovation Makes Strides Treating PTSD

Though many of our veterans returned home years ago, for the 20 percent who suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, their experiences in service remain a haunting reality in their daily lives. PTSD is a mental health condition that can develop after an individual experiences or witnesses a life-threatening event such as combat, a car accident, or sexual assault.

For veterans suffering from PTSD, war doesn’t end when they come home. Symptoms vary person to person but can range from not being able to sleep at night to reliving frightening, lifelike flashbacks. The good news is treatment exists to help veterans cope with their symptoms; the bad news is the majority of cases go untreated.

Unlike physical wounds, PTSD can be difficult to diagnose and treat, and many veterans may not know the challenges they face are actually symptoms of PTSD. This is why PTSD and its impacts are often referred to as the “invisible wounds of war.”

With continued innovation in the delivery of health care, new opportunities for collaboration among public, private, and nonprofit organizations have emerged with the shared goal of creating the best possible care for veterans. As emerging powerful and sophisticated health care IT tools enable specialists to better treat visible wounds and diseases, we are significantly improving care for “invisible” wounds by partnering with some of America’s leading healthcare innovators.

At Rush University Medical Center’s Road Home Program we are committed to creating specific, evidence-based treatment to support the men and women who have put their lives on the line for our country, providing treatment and programs designed to reduce veterans’ symptoms and help restore day-to-day functionality  to and help veterans and their families heal as one. The Road Home Program not only provides veterans and their families with timely and confidential treatment, support, and veteran health services but now also offers families mobile resources and education to help cope with the invisible wounds of war through a coaching app.

Through our partnership with Epic, creator of the most widely used electronic health records systems, we’ve created customized tools that allow multiple clinicians to better coordinate care from first contact through various and often unusual healthcare settings. Innovative companies like Epic are helping lead the way in the delivery of personalized care patients can access in their own homes through software that allows for patient monitoring, specialist referrals, and ongoing clinical engagement all at the click of a button.

Thanks to this technology, the retired Army general in rural Illinois and the homebound Marine in Chicago will soon have access to the same quality care. And partnerships like ours do more than simply improve connectivity of care; Epic and Rush have joined forces to train and place veterans in the professional world of healthcare information technology to help match these highly qualified job-seekers with fast-growing healthcare needs.

On June 27, 2010, we observed Congress declare PTSD Awareness Day to recognize the profound and reaching effects of the condition and to encourage victims to seek help. Seven years later, we’re proud of the progress we’ve made and humbled by the task that remains before us. Our work is far from finished, and the challenge that remains in improving PTSD treatment and services for veterans and their families demands a commitment from America’s best innovators in the private, nonprofit, and public sectors to continue to strengthen partnerships with the shared goal of improving access to evidence-based PTSD treatments for our veterans, the men and women who guarantee America’s safety and freedom, after they return home.

We have a moral obligation to continue to improve the way we identify and care for veterans’ wounds of war — both visible and invisible. Thanks to the joining of American innovation with our unshakable commitment to our veterans, we are fulfilling that obligation.

Rebecca Van Horn is associate medical director of the Road Home Program: The Center for Veterans and Their Families and an assistant professor in the department of psychiatry at Rush University Medical Center.

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