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VA New England Healthcare System


VA New England entrepreneurs shine

Devin Harrison speaking with Dr. Nishant Shah

Dr. Nishant Shah, right, speaks with Devin Harrison, VA innovations coordinator

By John Paradis, VA New England Healthcare System
Monday, November 9, 2020

From a new process to speed up the time Veterans receive cardiac stress tests to a new device to help Veterans with sleep apnea, the VA New England Healthcare System was well represented at this year’s Veterans Health Administration Innovation Experience.

VA New England, or VISN 1, is one of 18 Veterans Integrated Service Networks (VISNs) within the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. VISN 1 has 11 medical centers, 45 CBOCs, six community living centers and two domiciliaries.

This year’s “iEX” included the nationally recognized Shark Tank competition as well as VHA Innovators Network, or “iNET,” demos and exhibits that showcased the best and the brightest innovations and new ideas across VHA. 

Due to COVID-19, it was held entirely by virtual means with live-streaming last week with more than 1,700 people registered participants and many more who watched the various presentations online.

The following VA New England specialists were in the spotlight at this year’s iEX:

  • Dr. Nishant Shah from VA Providence, one of 15 Shark Tank finalists!  Looking at prolonged wait times for Veterans requiring cardiac stress tests, Dr. Shah and his team designed a workflow using a structured electronic consult with all outpatient stress test orders to reduce unnecessary stress tests. 
  • “It helps address a big problem,” said Shah. “Published data shows that up to 20 percent, that’s one in five, cardiac stress tests performed within the VA may have been unnecessary.”
Dr. Rasalingam describes a mouthguard device

Dr. Rasalingam describes a mouthguard device used to treat breathing obstructions

  • Dr. Ravi Rasalingam from VA Boston.  Dr. Rasalingam’s presentation on “a novel device for treatment of obstructive sleep apnea” was one of 18 iNET employee innovations on virtual display at the VHA iEX Demos event. His approach leverages advances in orthodontia to provide a comfortable method for oral therapy to create a custom-fit mouthguard that stabilizes the tongue and prevents obstruction of the throat at night.
  • “Our approach was to develop a device that not only treated these breathing obstructions but was comfortable enough for patients to use on a nightly basis,” said Rasalingam. “Something that’s necessary to treat a chronic illness.”
Charles Franklin talks about the VA Rideshare program

Charles Franklin talks about the VA Rideshare program

  • Charles Franklin, one of three iNET annual excellence award recipients for his leadership of a VA Rideshare program that was adapted during the pandemic to help Veterans in need with food, housing, transportation assistance and other support. Due to COVID-19, Franklin pivoted the initiative from its original mission to get Veterans to and from job appointments and to help find housing to a new critical demand in supporting Veterans requiring access to basic necessities like food and essential social services. 
  • “Thank you for the opportunity to pivot my project and to really meet the needs of the Veteran during this pandemic,” said Franklin in accepting the “Tanked Award,” so named because it describes a project that was turned around from its original start-up and revitalized.
  • Franklin, VA Boston’s community employment coordinator, created the Veterans Employment Ride Share Initiative in 2018. With support from the iNET, the project has since expanded to include eight other VA health care systems across the country.

Fellowship coming to VA Boston

In addition, the VA Boston Healthcare System’s West Roxbury Medical Center was named the location for a fellowship to implement one of 10 promising practices chosen at this year’s Shark Tank competition.

Marcus Johnson from the Durham VA Medical Center in North Carolina, whose Shark Tank promising practice of Mobile Recruitment, or “MoRe,” to expand Veteran access to clinical research, will now work with VA Boston to help VISN 1 in adapting and implementing the practice.

“We look forward to welcoming Mr. Johnston to our West Roxbury campus to begin this important work,” said Ryan Lilly, VA New England Healthcare System’s network director. “Thank you to Dr. Shah, Dr. Rasalingam, and Mr. Franklin.  Your hard work put our VA New England Healthcare System in the spotlight this past week, but most importantly your efforts will result in more process improvement advances and better access to care for Veterans all across our great nation.”

VISN 1 has two dedicated innovation specialists who work year-round to help employees with the tools and skillsets to bring innovative ideas to fruition.

“To all you VISN 1 entrepreneurs out there – start working on your ideas to tackle front-line challenges for promising practices for next year’s Shark Tank,” said Lilly in a note to employees this week.

This year’s iEX 2020 also had another notable New England connection.

Dean Kamen talks about innovation

Dean Kamen, inventor and president of the Manchester, N.H., based DEKA Research & Development Corporation, sat down with Dr. Kenneth Kizer, former VA Under Secretary of Health.

Kamen also announced that in collaboration with SoldierStrong, a national non-profit from Stamford, Conn., VA will receive 10 iBOT powered wheelchairs to be used by disabled Veterans.

Kamen has also worked with the state of New Hampshire and VA officials to facilitate the shipment via FedEx cargo planes of medical supplies and protective personnel equipment for medical centers, including VA sites of care.

Kamen is best known for inventing the product that eventually became known as the Segway. He said one of the positive outcomes from his relationship with VHA has been the collaboration to find even greater innovative practices to improve health care for Veterans.

“We want to deliver better health care to more people, more effectively and the only way we’re going to do it and get innovation is everybody is willing to look at all the issues, all the opportunities, appropriately weigh the risks and move on,” said Kamen.”

To learn more about VHA Innovation, visit



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