In this week’s episode of Chats with the Chief, VHA Chief of Staff Jon M. Jensen sits down with Brynn Cole, director of design and storytelling with VHA Innovation Ecosystem, to discuss how VA is using human-centered design to reimagine how to change health care delivery for Veterans.
Journeying through VHA’s Ecosystem of Innovation programs
Cole recounts her career journey at VA and involvement with VA’s network of innovation programs. Her current department, VHA Innovation Ecosystem, helps improve VA care delivery through the discovery and spread of health care innovations and best practices. She was previously director of programming for the VHA Innovators Network, which empowers and equips VA frontline employees to solve problems for their Veteran patients and fellow colleagues.
She discusses VA’s other innovation programs, including Diffusion of Excellence and Shark Tank, which aim to spread and scale next and best practices across the VA enterprise. Cole believes the programs within the innovation ecosystem have been fundamental to the culture change at VA within the past few years.
Using data to tell Veterans’ stories
Cole notes that behind the often-cited statistic of nine million Veterans enrolled in VA care, there are nine million individuals and their families and each have widely different and unique context. Cole believes it is important for VA to understand and “lean into” an individual’s unique context and look at each person as a complete data set rather than a single data point.
She also notes the importance of using empathy and human-centered design and rounding out quantitative data with qualitative information to tell the stories of VA’s impact on Veterans’ lives. “VA connects with people. VA saves lives. VA changes lives,” Cole said. “But all of that can get lost when just talking about statistics and hard to grasp concepts.”
Reimagining Veteran health care
Next, Cole discusses the VA project Reimaging Veteran Health Care, or RVH. Recognizing that the COVID-19 pandemic altered life for so many people, RVH used the pandemic as a reflection point for what people want for the future, what has shifted in people’s lives, and how to innovate new care delivery pathways.
RVH looks at what VA care will need to be in 10-20 years to meet Veteran’s evolving care needs and shifts in demographics. RVH also focuses on who Cole refers to as the “unengaged” Veterans: women, LGBTQI, people of color, unenrolled, and those who have left VA care, as well as Veteran caregivers.