Late Breaking News
Web-based System Helps DoD Track Suicides
- Categorized in: August 2010
WASHINGTON, DC—Suicide surveillance technology is helping the military track suicides, an important component in prevention, officials said during a DCoE webinar held last month.
The military launched a web-based system known as the Department of Defense Suicide Event Report (DoDSER) in January of 2008.
Nancy A Skopp, PhD, a research psychologist and program manager for the Research, Outcomes, Surveillance, and Evaluation Division of the National Center for Telehealth and Technology, stated that a quality suicide surveillance system is important in describing the current status of military suicides. It allows officials to track trends and identify patterns of suicide that are occurring, and identify possible solutions. It also facilitates the evaluation of suicide prevention programs and allows for leaders to be able to access timely suicide data.
Prior to the inception of DoDSER, a paper-based suicide surveillance system was used and data collection was not standardized across the services, according to Skopp. “As you can imagine, it is very difficult to track a very rare event, such as suicide, across a large geographical area. There was not a clear process in place and each service had their distinct processes.”
Data is input on suicides through a web form. A DoDSER report is required when the Office of the Armed Forces Examiner determines a death is a suicide. The system allows the user to input a variety of information, such as where the suicide took place, the method used, whether the individual had a behavioral health diagnosis prior to the suicide, among other details.
The advantage of DoDSER is that data is centralized and automatically archived, among other things, noted Skopp. “It is a process as well as a system that is designed to track suicides throughout the DoD. The benefit is that it is an automated, standardized data collection of suicide worldwide across all the services.”
Skopp said that officials are striving to make sure that the data collected in the system is accurate. Data collected on suicides provides information for an annual DoD suicide report which supports the examination of suicide risk factors that may exist within and between the services.
Upgrades to the software are in the works, including a feature that allows for user-defined reports so that a user can breakdown data in different ways. “It also allows for a graphical presentation of the data, which is very useful.”
Officials are also planning a project that is designed to track nonfatal suicide ideations of servicemembers who go through the VAsystem. “It could help improve the efficiency of services. It could also clearly flag individuals, if we are able to link the two systems, who are at risk for suicidal behavior,” said Skopp.
Officials also are involved in a project designed to link DoDSER data with the CDC National Violent Death Reports System (NVDRS). NVDRS is technology-based surveillance system with 18 states participating. The system captures detailed information on the circumstances surrounding violent deaths, including suicides. According to CDC, NVDRS collects data on violent deaths from a variety of sources, including death certificates, police reports, medical examiner and coroner reports, and crime laboratories. Taken together these sources offer a more complete picture of the circumstances surrounding a homicide or suicide.
J Logan, PhD, a behavioral scientist in the Division of Violence Prevention at CDC, said the linkage of the two systems will help capture more comprehensive factors surrounding military suicides, since the systems capture different pieces of information surrounding suicide events. “This will improve the characterization and [provide] a plethora of information so we can better inform prevention strategies.”
DoDSER data will be linked to NVDRS data through a probabilistic matching approach using multiple variables to make the matches, Logan explained.