How Businesses Collaborate with the VA to Save Veterans' Lives

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In this June 21, 2013, file photo, the seal affixed to the front of the Department of Veterans Affairs building in Washington. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
In this June 21, 2013, file photo, the seal affixed to the front of the Department of Veterans Affairs building in Washington. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

Dr. Ryan Vega is chief officer of the Office of Healthcare Innovation and Learning for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

During this unprecedented pandemic, businesses have joined forces with the health care community to focus on identifying innovative solutions now and into the future.

The Veterans Health Administration, or VHA, America's largest integrated health care system, is no exception.

The VHA has tackled the COVID-19 pandemic with unparalleled resilience, most importantly by harnessing the power of community.

In the last year, the VHA community has grown to include more external business collaborators, partners and alliances to better serve veterans. Aiding in this effort is the Department of Veterans Affairs' VHA Innovation Ecosystem, or VHA IE, which drives innovation with diverse perspectives; empowers partnering with the larger innovation community; and focuses on building a culture where collaboration is central to our mission.

Opportunities for collaboration with the VA exist for all stages of innovation maturity, including startups at the earliest stages of discovery and ideation; major corporations testing new technology; and partners who are scaling and replicating mature innovations at VA facilities. The department is seeking to further grow alliances and encourages all businesses to reach out to the VA to join us in this mission.

Additionally, the VHA Innovators Network, or iNET, a network of 37 VA medical centers throughout the country, launched the Greenhouse Initiative, which enables companies to collaborate directly with VHA employees and end users at iNET sites to design solutions and conduct user experience testing. This is significant because Greenhouse gives outside health care innovators access to the entire innovative force of iNET, a pool of engaged and equipped frontline health care professionals, enthusiastic end users and innovation specialists.

For example:

  • HermTac, developed through the COVID-19 Maker Challenge, is collaborating with Greenhouse to build and test its Tessellated Sanitization Stations. This solution uses concentrated Ultraviolet C lighting and tessellated panels to sanitize medical tools quickly and safely. VHA IE Extended Reality Network leaders are currently testing prototypes of the sanitization boxes.
  • Unlimited Tomorrow has pioneered next-generation prosthetic arms and hands. UT will collaborate with frontline employees from the VA Salt Lake City Health Care System to develop technology to provide the most lifelike alternate-reality equine therapy experience for veterans who have physical, mental or distance obstacles to an in-person equine-assisted experience.

Our efforts working with businesses outside of the VA continue to prove successful, as seen through the use of the VHA IE's Care and Transformational Initiatives, which focus on collaborating with industry to develop, test and implement 3D printing, immersive technology, veteran-facing solutions, artificial intelligence, precision medicine and innovative care models.

The VA collaborated with Boston-based startup Podimetrics to roll out the "Initiative to End Diabetic Limb Loss" and offers an effective remote monitoring solution that detects diabetic foot ulcers five weeks before they would otherwise present themselves through daily temperature scans of veterans' feet when monitoring from home.

This remote monitoring solution has revolutionized care and resulted in helping reduce the need for amputation and decreased hospitalizations by 52% and emergency room visits by 43%. The VHA IE has led the design and testing of new care models that integrate this solution seamlessly into clinical care and into veterans' daily lives. Currently, the VHA IE is preparing to lead an enterprisewide product evaluation of a clinical care model that incorporates remote temperature monitoring into telehealth care for veterans at greater risk of illness.

The list of collaborators from industry continues to grow and includes Verizon, Medivis, DEKA Research & Development Corporation, Applied VR and others.

Our collaborations succeed because we have the courage to learn quickly and apply lessons learned to swiftly adapt and move forward. The VHA is a value-based care provider, and business leaders tell us it aids the VA in embracing solutions that save money and lead to improved health outcomes. They also report that there's no health system better suited to adopt new technologies to better care for patients than the VHA.

Veterans and the VHA employees who serve them embody the best of America. We're ready to help businesses join us in honoring them and their spirit of service. Learning more about and collaborating with the VHA IE is how we all can give back and deliver more together.

-- The opinions expressed in this op-ed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Military.com. If you would like to submit your own commentary, please send your article to opinions@military.com for consideration.

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