In the last decade we’ve seen a dramatic increase in the number of veterans and servicemen and women struggling with combat-related mental illness and behavioral health conditions. The U.S. Army and Department of Veterans Affairs have been forced to confront the ubiquity and growing prevalence of mental illness in military. As the concept of precision mental health care continues to gain momentum, the civilian world has a thing or two to learn from the U.S. Army’s new approach to treating mental illness.

Unfortunately, despite medicine’s incredible advances in the last century, our knowledge of the human brain still is woefully lacking.

So, what is precision medicine? The concept of precision medicine, which was publicized widely in July 2016 by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and endorsed by President Obama through several White House Initiatives, focuses on the personalization of medical treatments and prevention strategies. Precision medicine is the idea that more effective treatments can be identified if they are tailored to a person’s individual variables such as age, genes and lifestyle.

Dave Rocker US Army Mental Health

Unless you live under a rock, it is not hard to recognize that precision medicine, which aims to tailor medical care to suit an individual patient’s needs, is essential. Despite many efforts in recent years to introduce patient-centered, outcomes-based approaches in health care, mental health care and behavioral research, much to society’s detriment, have largely been ignored.

The United States is the only developed nation which does not systematically collect data on mental health care outcomes– and we lack any nationwide means for harnessing it. That mental health care is rife with non-evidence based therapies delivered by practitioners possessing a range of degrees, qualifications and education, is problematic. These qualities also make mental health care a poor candidate for kind of rigorous assessment that is necessary for making precision medicine a reality.

To address the upsurge in mental illness among military personnel, the Army Medical Command developed an application called the Behavioral Health Data Portal (BHDP) in 2013 in an effort to make its mental health care more effective. The BHDP compiles information from military service members and their beneficiaries for the purpose of behavioral health evaluation and treatment; the BHDP also allows the Army to better assess, monitor, and document behavioral health conditions.

The BHDP system has allowed the Army to develop more accurate ways to examine patients and improve the quality of care for PTSD and major depressive disorder. “Prior to the introduction of BHDP, it was challenging to examine quality of PTSD care in the Army,” a recent article in Harvard Business Review points out. “Today, the Army can use the large volume of practice data that is being collected in BHDP to answer the most important question: Do soldiers feel they are getting better?”