The Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) Veterans Health Administration (VHA) is looking to innovation as its “North Star,” and piloting emerging technologies to deliver better healthcare to veterans.

Dr. Carolyn Clancy, the assistant under secretary for health at VHA, said her agency is reimagining veteran healthcare and outlined some of its innovative technologies at the GDIT Emerge Health 2022 conference on Nov. 3.

“Innovation is our North Star. It energizes us, it makes us excited,” Dr. Clancy said. “And it’s really compelling to imagine how we’re going to expand our horizons in healthcare innovation; promote that kind of collaboration to solve some of the biggest challenges healthcare faces now and in the future; and frankly, discover breakthroughs that revolutionize how we improve and deliver healthcare.”

This innovative approach is already helping VHA to transform veteran healthcare in three ways, she explained. The first is through redefining the initial patient encounter and changing that interaction from reactive to proactive.

The second, she said, is by deepening veteran engagement and “working to ensure that healthcare feels personal, not impersonal.”

The third is “extending the envelope of care from bricks and mortar to home and life,” something she said the COVID-19 pandemic helped to accelerate through telehealth services.

Dr. Clancy explained one recent “incredibly exciting” innovation breakthrough that the VHA has seen is through its extended reality network, which she said has grown “exponentially.”

While the innovation on that front has been “completely grassroots,” she explained the VHA is currently in the process of evaluating the clinical impact on veterans.

“I will just tell you about what I heard from one veteran when asked, he was trying one of these applications for phantom limb pain – which is about one of the most challenging kinds of pain to treat, nothing we have for pain management works, nothing,” Dr. Clancy said. “And he reported that after about a week, he knew it was working because he wasn’t afraid to go to bed at night. And at that moment in time, the entire room was radio silence.”

Finding health breakthroughs like that and providing better care to veterans, is “what healthcare innovation is all about,” she said.

“All of us here today, whether we work in industry or government share a common vision: leveraging technology and innovation to develop healthcare solutions that improve patient outcomes and change lives, and I would also add make the work easier and more joyful,” Dr. Clancy said. “That is going to be the trifecta that we have to be pushing.”

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Grace Dille
Grace Dille
Grace Dille is MeriTalk's Assistant Managing Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.