The VHA Innovators Network (iNET) helps VA employees turn ideas into reality. The Spark-Seed-Spread Innovation Investment Program invests funding into VHA employees, allowing them to test and develop their ideas and solutions in an accelerated lifecycle.

Terri Ohlinger has created solutions for her patients throughout her 30 years as a nurse. She developed a sense resourcefulness while serving in the Army, caring for her fellow soldiers. That ingenuity followed her to VA; it’s how she approaches caring for her fellow Veterans. Luckily, the Cincinnati VA Medical Center (VAMC), where Terri is based, is part of iNET. Her latest quest is called “Drop Ease.”

With Drop Ease, Ohlinger developed a device to measure eye drops efficiently and make it easy enough for all Veterans to use.

“Too many patients were not doing their eye drop treatment regimes, because the bottle was too hard to squeeze, potentially leading to poor outcomes,” she said. “They were also using too much with each dose and needing drops reordered more frequently, resulting in increased costs.”

Since iNET connects and partners with academia, private sector, and non-profit companies, Ohlinger was able to get in touch with Quality Life Plus (QL+), a non-profit focused on fostering and generating innovations that aid and improve the quality of life for those who have served.

QL+’s resources allowed her to develop one prototype so far, and “hopefully my second will be made by five University of Cincinnati senior engineering students as their senior project,” she said.

Veterans benefit from employee innovation

iNET allows VA employees to innovate and succeed. Its success isn’t just based on the final innovative solution design or its implementation. Rather, it is measured by the sense of empowerment the employee innovator takes from their time involved in iNET.

What does it mean to be a part of iNET? “That I am being heard,” Ohlinger said. “More importantly, [that] the Veterans are being heard. I asked what the problem was, and then strived to find the answer; then take it back to the Vets so they can tell me how to make it better.”

It is because of the passion and drive of innovators like Terri that VA delivers the best care anywhere. Follow the VHA Innovation Ecosystem on Facebook and Twitter as we showcase a new employee innovator each month. Learn how iNET is creating an army of frontline VHA employee innovators.

Allison Amrhein is the director of operations for VHA’s iNET. 

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Published on Mar. 7, 2020

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