VA demo day showcases employee-driven innovation

The Department of Veterans Affairs touted employees' technology-based projects for solving veterans' health care challenges.

Shutterstock image: illuminated light bulb signifying an innovative idea.

The Department of Veterans Affairs is turning to its employees for technological approaches to improving health care delivery for veterans.

At an Aug. 15 demo day hosted by Booz Allen Hamilton, VA officials touted more than three dozen employee-driven projects at VA facilities nationwide. The showcase is part of the department's push to encourage employees to develop potential remedies for pervasive health issues facing veterans.

The projects included a redesigned screening system for hepatitis C, a program focused on suicide prevention, a bike-share program, solutions for expediting emergency room visits, technology-based eye care services and various plans to address mental health issues.

"Every successful innovator is solving a problem that's important to them, and I think you see that in our innovators," said Dr. David Shulkin, undersecretary of health at VA and leader of the Veterans Health Administration.

The VA has a storied history of bottom-up innovation. Internal developers designed its electronic health record system VistA. However, that system might be nearing the end of its useful life, and the VA recently posted a request for information about possible commercial replacements.

Other recent initiatives to foster employee participation include hackathons designed for veterans to pitch problems for entrepreneurs to solve, the two-day Diffusion of Excellence Planning Summit to develop and spread plans to improve customer service, and the VA Center for Innovation.

The center recently issued a request for applications for department facilities to join the innovators network, which consists of eight sites. So far, more than 40 facilities have applied to become part of the network.

"Everybody knows that we have been struggling coming out of our own crisis issues in VHA, and really, for us, innovation is not just important, it's actually essential," Shulkin said. "There's no way we will be able to continue to survive as an organization -- in health care in particular -- if we don't innovate and if we don't embrace innovation."

VA officials said the department will likely adopt some of the demo day projects.

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