This post initially appeared on VA Innovation’s Medium site.

We believe that our employees are the beating heart of VA — they know the challenges all too well and are the most equipped to identify potential solutions. By investing in the people who make this organization great, the Innovators Network further catalyzes innovation efforts across VA. The VA Center for Innovation launched the VA Innovators Network program in 2015 to create a culture of innovation at VA and provide a safe space for VA employees to join forces with partners in the community to better serve Veterans and their families. As we conclude our first year, we want to share some of the outcomes that we are most proud of that improve experiences for Veterans and their families at the VA and beyond:

We created a new innovation muscle. The real magic of the VA Innovators Network is the creation of a new position, “Innovation Specialist”, launched initially at eight VA medical centers across the United States: the Atlanta VA Medical Center, Boston VA Healthcare System, Chillicothe VA Medical Center, Gulf Coast VA Healthcare System, Portland VA Healthcare System, San Francisco VA Medical Center, Sonny Montgomery VA Medical Center and the Zablocki VA Medical Center.

Image of the Innovators Network group workingWe launched new funding and implementation paths. We introduced a new platform to address VA system-level challenges that adversely impact our ability to serve Veterans: the Spark-Seed-Spread Innovation Funding Program powered by the VA Innovators Network Accelerator. The program enables employees to learn innovation-related competencies, such as Human Centered Design, and access funding and support to fuel innovation. By testing new ideas, products, or processes on a small scale, the Innovators Network prevents VA from committing resources on a large scale that might not work; small pilots and iterative co-design ensures that new offerings and services are delivering real value to Veterans and employees along the way. The first wave of the program culminated with a VA Innovation Demo Day in August 2016.

We are delivering real value to Veterans. The VA Innovators Network Accelerator has already grown three-dozen projects co-designed with Veterans. You can read more about these projects here.

We are building innovation muscle. The Innovators Network has trained over 1,300 VA employees on innovation-related competencies, including Human Centered Design. Thanks to a partnership with the Office Of Personnel Management Innovation Lab, VA employees were trained across 10 two-day human-centered design workshops.

We are improving access to care. Several VA Innovators Network projects dramatically improve access to care for Veterans and their families. Dr. April Maa (Atlanta VA) led the roll out of Technology-based Eye Care Services (TECS). This is an innovative remote eye care-screening program that improves access to care and prevents blindness.

We improved care coordination in communities. Developed by Dr. Demosthenes (Atlanta VA) and the Northwest Innovation Center (Portland VA), a new innovation tool automates the upload of patient data to care providers in the community. The innovation accelerates the transfer of medical records by 400–700 percent, it improves HIPPA compliance, and it fosters better communication between VA and community partners.

We are improving the mental healthcare experience. Derived from the qualitative data analysis in ‘Improving Access to Mental Healthcare report’ by the VA Center for Innovation, the Sonny Montgomery VA is improving access to mental healthcare by applying design thinking at the front lines in collaboration with Veterans and VA employees. They are creating a branding campaign to improve how veterans navigate to support and improve triage by the support staff.Image of the Innovators Network group brainstorming ideas

We created new ways to hear from Veterans. We held dozens of pitch workshops at VA Innovators Network sites across the country to provide a safe space to hear from Veterans about challenges they are facing, for VA employees to raise problems, and for the community to come together to resolve these challenges in new and dynamic ways. We also embraced the “hackathon” model to bring together Veterans, VA employees, developers, designers, and entrepreneurs to launch new innovations to serve Veterans. You can read more about one of our hackthons here in Inc.

We are working to improve employee experience and culture. The VA Innovators Network program helped increase the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (a tool that measures employee’s perceptions) score for “innovation + creativity”. At all eight Innovators Network pilot sites the average score is 5.3 (for comparison, the average score is 2.0 for “innovation + creativity” across all VA medical centers). We’re confident this score will continue to improve!

We are serious stewards of taxpayer dollars. We are providing a return on investment from two projects alone of $831K in FY16, $7.1M in FY17, and $8.1M in FY18 on the initial investment in the entire program ($2.5M).

We are scaling successful innovations! We are partnering with the Diffusion of Excellence Initiative to scale innovation projects. The initiative helps identify and systematically spread best practices and ensures Veterans receive the highest quality of medical care, regardless of location. You can hear about one of the VA Innovators Network medical center director’s experiences in the Shark Tank effort here.

We are learning and sharing our findings along the way. By marrying improvement and innovation as key components of transformation efforts, it helps us both better serve our customers with new, reimagined services and allows us to evolve and remove non-value-added activities in the process to enable us to respond to serve Veterans’ needs in a timely manner.

We are working to rebuild sacred trust with our Veteran communities. We have heard from Veterans that while they love their care at the VA, the one-sided negative news narratives often them causes them to lose trust in the VA. The VA Innovators Network has resulted in over 40+ positive press mentions. There’s a lot of positive things happening around VA and we’re dedicated to telling these stories so to regain sacred trust from our Veterans.

We are building partnerships with members of the innovation ecosystem. We know we cannot do this alone — we need dynamic partners to tackle the biggest challenges. And so we have developed partnerships with a number of organizations, including America Makes, Forge Health, GE, to name a few. We have also partnered with academia, such as with Georgia Tech in Atlanta and The Ohio State University South Centers Small Business Administration in Chillicothe. We are also collaborating with federal partners, such as OPM Innovation Lab, HHS (including the Idea Lab, CDC, and NIH 3D Print Exchange), and NASA.

While we are proud of our collective accomplishments from this year, we are constantly learning and iterating through this new program. The Innovators Network is part of a larger transformation effort across the VA and we know that we need to repeatedly continue to evaluate ourselves and evolve to best serve Veterans and their families.

In addition, we know we need to continue to scale to continue to collaborate with VA employees to best serve Veterans and their families across the United States. Therefore, we are proud to launch our next 14 sites to join the VA Innovators Network:

  • Albany Stratton VA Medical Center, Albany, NY
  • Louis Stokes Cleveland VA Medical Center, Cleveland, OH
  • Grand Junction VA Healthcare System, Grand Junction, CO
  • Hines VA Medical Center, Chicago, IL
  • Hunter Holmes McGuire VA Medical Center, Richmond, VA
  • Lebanon VA Medical Center, Lebanon, PA
  • Lexington VA Medical Center, Lexington, KY
  • VA Loma Linda Healthcare System, Loma Linda, CA
  • New Mexico VA Healthcare System, Albuquerque, NM
  • Puget Sound VA Healthcare System, Seattle, WA
  • VA San Diego Healthcare System, San Diego, CA
  • South Texas Healthcare System, San Antonio, TX
  • Tuscaloosa VA Medical Center, Tuscaloosa, AL
  • White River Junction VA Medical Center, White River Junction, VT

We are excited for another year of incredible impact serving Veterans through the VA Innovators Network! Please stay tuned for new exciting developments as we continue to blaze through this journey of transformation at the VA.

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Published on Oct. 27, 2016

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One Comment

  1. liz October 31, 2016 at 2:03 pm

    Seems like a lot of Money is going into this System, as usual I don’t see how all these Programs especially how to improve employees working better with patient satisfaction! How about just firing them, or a simple computer game “how to be Respectful to Veterans that could be an Annual Mandatory training across the table for Medical Directors – Supply Clerks! These learned behaviors for 20+ year employees (doctors included) will not change with your 2.5M programs.

    I can’t believe the $600B allocated from Congress to VA is being diverted like this, and now Congress is allowing the $$ allocated to Veteran’s Choice Program to be redirected by VA to other programs, is it any wonder why Veteran’s are being denied Access to Veteran’s Choice in their Communities.
    When I called to inquire about a Streamline Choice Referral Coordinator, Appeals Policy, or even a way to deliver a Patient Satisfaction Survey no one could give me an answer. I wrote to VA Secretary Rob McDonald in September for his help, I still have no reply.

    Fix the Veteran’s Choice Program using the Funds allocated and make it work. Stop the Bureaucratic Red Tape as outlined in the New Veteran’s Choice and make something work for a change.

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