VHA IE Trailblazers like Sandra Indal lead the way.

VHA IE Trailblazers are leading the way in innovation at VA. Dr. Indra Sandal is bringing Veterans to their care.

Transportation is the largest barrier for health care access for Veterans. A 2017 study showed that around 1.8 million appointments at VHA facilities were cancelled each year because of transportation issues, costing nearly $4.4 billion and impacting Veterans’ ability to receive the care they earned.

Dr. Indra Sandal, a Veterans Health Administration Innovation Ecosystem (VHA IE) Entrepreneur in Residence and VHA Innovators Network (iNET) Innovation Specialist at the Memphis VA Medical Center (VAMC), knew that there had to be a way to get Veterans with transportation challenges to VA facilities to receive the Veteran-centered care that they want.

“Eighty-eight percent of Veterans tell us that they want to come to a VA doctor because they think the providers in the community care won’t understand military culture,” said Dr. Sandal. “So, they want to come back. Our goal is how can we bring them back to VA so we can provide the best care for them?”

VHA IE Trailblazers lead the way

Dr. Sandal found the solution to this challenge in her work as Memphis VAMC’s Innovation Specialist. In this role, she leads hospital-wide innovation strategy, harnesses employee innovation at the VAMC, networks with teams across 15 other VAMCs, and is an integral part of iNET. It is through iNET that she began working with the VA Boston Healthcare System to implement their Ride Share program at Memphis VAMC and realized that the program and partnerships could be expanded upon to not just deliver homeless Veterans to their care, but all Veterans anywhere. Thus, the VA-Uber Health Connect (VUHC) program was born.

VUHC is a partnership program between the VHA IE and Uber Health Rideshare Services in collaboration with Veterans Transportation Program Office (VTP) to overcome transportation barriers to VHA access for all Veterans. This partnership will integrate a Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)-complaint technology solution of Uber Health into a VAMC’s existing transportation system and provide a ride-sourcing platform specifically to get Veterans to and from their health care providers. It allows clinics and VAMCs to book rides for patients, track their trips, record billing and spending information, and send reminders to their mobile phone or landline from a centralized dashboard.

VUHC program has a threefold impact:

  1. Reduction of no-shows and late arrivals, and increased treatment adherence.
  2. Convenience and positive health outcomes for Veterans.
  3. Cost-saving potential due to decreased missed appointments and improved adherence to preventive care, leading to decreased need for ED visits and hospitalizations.

“This is my dream project,” said Sandal. “If I am going to do something this big, I need a platform and I can tell you that the VHA IE is the platform.”

This is no simple task. But Trailblazers like Dr. Sandal and her team are currently developing the integrated system to connect VA with the Uber Health rideshare partner so that requesting transportation is quick and easy. There is also the task of working alongside private sector companies and ensuring compliance with VA regulations, as well as coordinating billing for trips and other payments. The latter solution will also address another transportation hurdle for Veterans, as it means that they will no longer have to pay the transportation cost upfront or wait for transportation reimbursement, with the entire process being handled through VA and its partners.

VUHC is currently planned for a launch in September 2021 and will be deployed to 11 VAMCs across VISN 9 and VISN 15. With the support of VHA IE, Dr. Sandal is looking forward to bringing it to as many Veterans as possible. To learn more about how VHA IE helps innovators and Trailblazers like Dr. Sandal break the boundaries of Veteran health care, head to the VHA IE website.

By Allison Amrhein is the director of operations for the VHA Innovators Network and communications lead for the VHA Innovation Ecosystem

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Published on Jul. 27, 2021

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