Innovation and ingenuity have long been a part of VA’s care for Veterans. However, the mission of providing the best care for all who served cannot be carried out alone. This is especially true in the modern health care space, where new ideas require considerable technical knowledge and rigorous testing. That’s why VHA Innovation Ecosystem (VHA IE) has launched VA Ventures, the second VHA IE National Center for Innovation and Impact, in collaboration with the VA Puget Sound Health Care System (VPSHS) in Seattle.
VA Ventures identifies health care challenges, develops solutions, and helps their creators rapidly turn them into commercialized products, changing and saving Veteran lives and ensuring innovations are delivered to VA patients first.
“We’re really starting from a foundation of strength,” said Dr. Beth Ripley, Director of VA Ventures. “Through our current work within VHA Innovation Ecosystem, we have forged partnerships with many innovative companies whose products have already had a real impact on the health of our nation’s Veterans.”
From the Frontlines
VA Ventures starts where all VA care starts: Veterans and frontline staff. By working directly with Veterans and staff, the center discovers the challenges facing them, enabling VA Ventures to then turn to academia, start-ups, and industry to develop solutions.
This tactic means that those most impacted by these innovations are involved early and often in their creation, yielding human-centered designs that solve issues being experienced right now. Once challenges are discovered, VA Ventures solicits responses through hackathon efforts and quarterly pitch sessions.
VA Ventures focuses on supporting innovations in five key areas:
- Improving access to care through homecare and telehealth innovations.
- Personalizing health care solutions for each Veteran patient.
- Uncovering new mechanisms for detecting, preventing and treating disease through large-scale data analysis.
- Building and supporting new ways to manage Veteran care across disciplines.
- Delivering best-in-class care and products to Veterans at lower costs.
VA Ventures works with a diverse network of partners in the academic and private sectors to identify, develop and promote rapid commercialization of innovative solutions. The effort will initially focus on 3D and bioprinting, artificial intelligence and machine learning imaging, robotics, augmented and virtual reality, and rural access.
Access to 5G connectivity at VA Ventures home-base, VAPSHS, will also play a vital role in the success of many VA Ventures initiatives. VA Ventures will be working to develop and evaluate new medical smart devices; 5G connectivity will enable these devices to be smarter, faster, and more capable, especially for data heavy applications like diagnostics, imaging and real-time decision making.
Smart devices currently under development include robotic prosthetics legs with artificial intelligences, in order to improve the mobility of Veterans with lower limb loss; smart, cloud-connected walking canes that help Veterans get the maximal benefit from walking canes and slow the progression of their knee osteoarthritis; and intelligent, wearable, robotic-knee exoskeletons that aim to reduce knee pain and improve mobility for those with knee osteoarthritis.
VA Ventures is also working collaboratively with external companies and internal partners across VA to develop next generation VR/AR applications to improve Veteran health and wellbeing. 5G connectivity will allow VR/AR applications to render data rich realistic environments to patients and clinicians alike. For example, a VR immersive experience allows cardiologists to visualize their patient’s beating heart prior to surgery, giving them the opportunity to visualize how to optimally place a new heart valve.
Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained
Risk is always a factor in health care innovation – one of the reasons why it’s often challenging to engage in. VA Ventures reduces this risk by providing private sector and academic innovators with exceptional resources, including design consultation, rapid prototyping, pathways for clinical trials, and/or prize money, licensed technologies, hardware, software, and access to subject matter experts. This support means that innovators will be entering into a partnership that moves their work forward rapidly and with less risk than outside VA.
More importantly, however, innovators receive access to a nationwide health care system so that they can design and build their solutions to scale. That is coupled with the opportunity to partner with clinicians and research scientists throughout VHA from the beginning to the end of the design process. This means that Veterans receive innovative care first while private sector participants can build their businesses and improve health care at the same time.
VA Ventures will lower barriers to innovation by clearly articulating staff and patient needs while rapidly discovering, testing and implementing solutions. This will accelerate VHA’s mission to deliver exceptional care through the development and implementation of innovative health care solutions, as well as enable focused collaborations between VA clinicians, researchers, innovators and industry partners.
“Leveraging these relationships and our already ongoing work, we’re looking forward to breaking new ground in Veteran care,” Dr. Ripley said.