The Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medals recently announced that two VA programs and its leaders have been named finalists in the 2020 Sammies Awards. The recognition is for the VA health care programs – 3D Printing Network and Connected Care – which have greatly helped to transform the lives of countless Veterans.

VA’s nominations in the categories of science and environment and management excellence are a testament to the department’s leadership in delivering creative solutions for Veterans.

The 2020 finalist in science and environment is Chair of the 3D Printing Advisory Committee Dr. Beth Ripley. The 2020 finalists in management excellence are: Chief Officer for Connected Care Dr. Neil Evans; Executive Director for Telehealth Services Dr. Kevin Galpin; and Executive Director for Connected Health Kathleen Frisbee, Ph.D.

While innovation and federal government are rarely mentioned in the same breath, the Sammies offer a platform to elevate government innovation and noteworthy accomplishments. The finalists’ combined skills and leadership in technology, medicine and policy are guiding VA’s merging of virtual tools with health care.

“VA has long been a leader in incorporating innovative technologies to meet the health care needs of the nation’s Veterans,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “It’s inspiring to see VA employees apply their medical expertise to innovations that elevate the quality of care delivered to Veterans.”

3D Printing

VA established a national 3D Printing Network for developing solutions and advancements that aid in surgery, prosthetics, dentistry and assistive technology devices tailored for individual patients’ needs.

VA started its network with 3D printers in Richmond, Pittsburgh and Minneapolis in 2017, and has since grown to 35 medical centers across the country.

“This has been a significant investment in the future of VA” said Ripley. “Our mission is clear: the goal is to serve Veterans. All I have to worry about is how to treat patients.”

In March, VA quickly mobilized its 3D printing resources to help with the fight against COVID-19. This resulted in partnerships with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the National Institutes of Health and private business. These partnerships rapidly scale across the network, allowing users to create prototypes for personal protective equipment and medical supplies – like face shields, masks and ventilators.

Before the pandemic, Ripley set her sights on creating living tissue and exploring projects to print vascularized bone for treating patients with bone tumors or chronic infections. VA Puget Sound Health Care System, where Ripley works, is one of four VA hospitals with a bioprinter.

Innovators interested in participating in VHA’s 3D Printing Network COVID-19 response can visit to learn more. 

Connected Care

As America’s largest integrated healthcare system, VA has long invested in Connected Care services. These expansive resources include telehealth options, mobile apps and other digital health solutions. In fiscal year 2019, more than 900,000 Veterans used VA telehealth services for almost 3 million appointments.

“Connected Care technologies allow Veterans to link with their VA health care teams from their preferred location,” said Evans. “Ultimately, this makes care more accessible and convenient.”

VA Video Connect sessions increased by 235% with close to 100,000 Veterans joining virtual appointments from home and nearly 300,000 total appointments. Where normal operations used to see 2,000 daily appointments, these numbers have swelled to 18,000 in April due to COVID-19.

“As the crisis unfolds, VA is relying on connected care technologies to provide ongoing medical care,” said Frisbee. “This helps to reduce the number of Veterans who are ill from physically entering medical facilities.”

VA’s patient portal, My HealtheVet, has surpassed 5 million registered users and provides Veterans the ability to send providers secure electronic messages, access medical records, check lab results and refill prescriptions. In March 2020, it received more than 2 million prescription refill requests – the most ever submitted to the portal in a single month.

“We want this to be the most convenient health care system with consistent access for every Veteran no matter where they are,” said Galpin. “Remote options available to Veterans have been critical, especially for those living in rural areas and those with mobility or transportation challenges.”

The Sammies

The Sammies award, known as the “Oscars” of government service, was named for the Partnership for Public Service’s late founder who believed “the future of our nation quite simply depends on the quality of our government.”

Finalists are announced during Public Service Recognition Week in May. Voting for the People’s Choice Award is ongoing. VA Sammies finalists can be viewed here.

Blog courtesy VA Office of Connected Care. The VA Office of Media Relations’ Ndidi Mojay also contributed.

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Published on May. 15, 2020

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