Digital Health Technology Deployed for Veteran Suicide Prevention

Distressed person sits in shadow next to a wheelchair.

Patricia Sutton, Veteran Health Education Coordinator at Central Virginia VA Health Care System, has the energy and passion for doing whatever it takes to make sure our Veterans are taken care of and, most importantly, have access to information when they need it the most. 

Patricia Sutton, Veteran Health Education Coordinator at Central Virginia VA Health Care System, stands in front of a GetWell Inpatient screen.

Patricia Sutton

Even though she is more comfortable doing this good work behind the scenes than in the spotlight, she graciously proves that anyone anywhere can make a small change that brings about a big impact. 

Q: Tell me about your idea and why you were so motivated to get this fixed?  

A: After we lost a patient to suicide, the pain from our staff was so palpable that during our RCA, we were all looking for more ways to prevent this from happening again.

One of the resources we have for our inpatients is GetWellNetwork, an interactive digital patient engagement screen that shows the patient their room number, current health plan, date, time, and to-do lists. Patients can also watch TV, listen to meditative sounds, or learn more about their health condition with educational videos.

When I started to look for suicide prevention information or the crisis hotline, it was really hard to find. I wanted to get this fixed as quickly as possible.  

Q: What was your idea to get this more visible?  

A: I wanted it to be accessible on the home screen and have a colored background, which is different from the other tabs that are white with an icon. Honestly, to update this was so simple. I called our GetWellNetwork representative, and within a day, they created an icon, changed the background color, and moved it to the front. 

Q: How long did it take for you to notice an impact?

A: We looked at the numbers, and before the change, only seven of our inpatient Veterans accessed the suicide prevention information in April. After the update was complete, 91 Veterans viewed the information during May, 74 Veterans in June, and 100 Veterans in July. 

Q: That is an incredible and immediate impact. How does that make you feel?

A: Honestly, I have been on so many projects, some that have taken months, and the impact is very minimal, or it takes a long time. This was such a simple fix that gives our Veterans a private and non-judgmental place to access potentially life-saving tools during a time where they may feel at their worst. To think this change could have saved a Veteran’s life or changed their frame of mind makes me proud to do what I do and warms my heart. 

For more information on how to implement this at your site, please contact your GetWellNetwork representative.

This article was first distributed by the Public Affairs Office for VISN 6.