Image: Flickr / Oleg Afonin
From building a redesigned VA hospital in New Orleans to collaborating with a 3D printer manufacturer, the VA is finding new ways to innovate veterans’ healthcare.
We owe so much to the men and women who have died defending our country. Their contributions to major advances in medicine is one of the biggest reasons we are indebted to those who serve in our Armed Forces. “As the Trump administration begins the important and challenging work of continuing to transform the VA into an organization that provides exemplary healthcare to veterans,” Stephen L. Hauser and Jon-Eric Vanleeuwen write in STAT, our government ought to take this “opportunity to rethink the VA’s role in biomedical research.”
The authors outline three recommendations on how the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (the VA) can “become the national example for science at the bedside and clinical medicine in the laboratory.” They go on to point out that the VA, as the largest integrated healthcare system in the US, has a tremendous potential to model the fruits borne by closing the gap separating discovery and implementation. But to realize this vision, the authors assert, the VA must prioritize medical research as an integral element of its multifaceted healthcare mission. Research should not take priority over clinical care, but it shouldn’t be an afterthought, either.
To be sure, the VA is well-positioned to embrace a new role–a leading role–in the biomedical arena. The authors’ recommendations follow on the heels of the Department’s efforts in recent years to pioneer new technologies, streamline access to services, and enable VA providers to deliver more efficient, quality care. As tech companies and healthcare stakeholders in the private sector take notice of these efforts, the VA continues to elicit the interest of early-stage digital health and medtech ventures.
A number of creative solutions and initiatives have been proposed, giving veterans and VA stakeholders reason to be optimistic about the VA’s future. By leveraging innovation and developing new approaches to veterans’ healthcare, these collaborations are bringing the VA into a new era of cutting-edge research and care.
We’ve highlighted three noteworthy VA partnerships, both to commend what they’ve already achieved and in support of the work they’ve yet to accomplish. The three partnerships below all recognize the importance of maximizing data and including veterans’ perspectives in their efforts to innovate veterans’ healthcare.
VA Hospital in New Orleans Employs Design Strategies
After Hurricane Katrina destroyed New Orleans’ VA hospital in 2008, a new facility had to be rebuilt from the ground up. Out of the devastation and destruction wrought by Katrina, hospital executives, architects, and designers used their clean slate as an opportunity to reimagine what a veterans’ hospital should be. The firm NBBJ collaborated on the Southeast Louisiana Veterans Health Care System Replacement Medical Center with two local New Orleans firms, Eskew+Dumez+Ripple and Rozas Ward Architects. Together, the team set out to design a new, cutting-edge facility to serve more than 70,000 veterans who reside in 23 parishes throughout the Gulf Coast.
NBBJ’s design team worked with the VA to recruit a diverse range of veterans to function as consultants on the project. With insight from over 100 veterans, 180 VA hospital staff living in Louisiana (many of whom are veterans themselves), and outside research, the team designing the hospital incorporated veterans’ views through the construction process, which finished in 2011. The project has been praised by a number of veteran communities.
VA and DOE Launch Big Data Science Initiative
Back in early May, the VA and the Department of Energy (DOE) announced their joint VA-DOE Big Data Science Initiative, which will leverage the VA’s access to genomic data with the DOE’s computer processing power, artificial intelligence technologies, and analytical expertise. By pooling their respective resources and assets, the DOE and VA hope to improve the health of veterans in areas such as suicide prevention, cancer, and heart disease.
The VA and 3D Printing
Stratasys Ltd. has teamed up with five VA hospitals to create the first 3D-printing network for hospitals in the country. The Department of Veterans Affairs is collaborating with the 3D printer manufacturer to encourage surgical planning and anatomical modeling for personalized healthcare. Stratasys is donating the technology to VA hospitals goal to encourage VA doctors to use the 3-D printing technology to build better and more customized prosthetic and orthotic devices.
The Trump administration and our federal government can honor veterans’ service by setting goals which go beyond a digital fix for VA computer networks. They should aim to transform the VA into a model healthcare and research system that ushers in the future of medical care and scientific discovery.