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VA workers turn entrepreneurs to improve veterans health care

Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) employees pitched ideas for improving veterans health care services nationwide during the VA Innovation Demo Day in Washington, D.C., on August 15. They hoped their projects would win support and funding for widespread adoption across the VA system.

A panel of department leaders, including VA Undersecretary for Health Dr. David Shulkin, viewed the presentations of over 33 VA employee-driven initiatives. The projects showcased at the event addressed the many pervasive issues the VA is tackling. These include suicide prevention, technological approaches to care, mental health services and problems with health care access and delivery.

The demo day was mirrored on the popular ABC show Shark Tank in which entrepreneurs present their ideas and businesses to a panel of investors. Shulkin said the event was part of an effort to encourage entrepreneurship among employees. He said it was necessary to, “embrace innovation,” in order to improve the lives of veterans by developing potential solutions to various problems.

Among the projects pitched at the event were Fitbits for aging patients, Apple watches to monitor the physical activity of veterans in rural areas and a smartphone app to help patients prepare for a colonoscopy. Other ideas were a new hepatitis C screening system, technology-based eye care services, a bike-share program and ways for improving emergency room visits.

The presentations were streamed to major VA facilities so that staff members could watch them. Officials said the VA will implement some of the promising initiatives. All projects were funded by one of three departmental programs that range from a $5,000 grant for launching an idea, to $500,000 for expanding projects to other VA facilities once their effectiveness has been demonstrated.

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