One of VHA Innovators Network’s (iNET) signature programs is the Greenhouse Initiative, an opportunity for the health care innovation community to collaborate with iNET sites across the nation at the earliest stages of innovation. This allows them to receive input from Veterans and employees to impact solutions aimed to improve Veteran care.
The Greenhouse Initiative explained
Through Greenhouse, external innovators work with iNET to share early-stage innovative product designs and receive end-user feedback from Veteran and employee stakeholders. Innovators develop a functional prototype or refine existing prototypes and conduct small-scale product user experience testing with appropriate end-users within VA.
Since its launch in December 2020, over 250 external start-ups, entrepreneurs and companies have applied to collaborate with iNET via Greenhouse, and over 400 VA employees throughout the country have participated in Greenhouse projects.
Through collaborations with Xander, Wearologie and Zeph Technologies, Greenhouse is providing an opportunity for the health care innovation community to collaborate to develop solutions that will enhance how we care for Veterans.
XanderGlasses – Helping people see what they can’t hear
Xander, a company of audio experts, has a mission to help people with hearing loss better understand sounds and speech. Xander uses augmented reality to enhance in-person conversations and create deeper connections.
Their first product, XanderGlasses, are smart glasses that display real-time captioning for people with hearing loss. The glasses work by providing speech-bubble-like captions of what other people are saying, helping users to better listen, understand and engage with their surroundings.
In February 2023, Xander visited Pittsburgh VA to kick-off Phase 2 of their Greenhouse collaboration with iNET sites. Phase 1 took place at VA sites in Pittsburgh, Augusta, Palo Alto and Orlando in Fall 2021. Based on Veteran feedback, Xander refined the initial prototype for Phase 2 testing.
After participating, a Veteran said “I appreciated the opportunity to test drive the glasses. I can see how they would be extremely beneficial to me with my hearing loss.” The new XanderGlasses prototype will spread to additional iNET sites for validation and testing.
Wearologie – Bringing physical therapy to the patient at home
Wearologie is a company that designs adaptive equipment to improve patient recovery outcomes. One of these innovations is Portable Parallel Bars on Wheels, the first foldable and transportable parallel bars available. Portable parallel bars make physical therapy access earlier, easier and safer for patients.
Portable Parallel Bars on Wheels
What started in 2020 by a team of volunteers working on the Challenge America COVID-19 Maker Challenge has now led to a collaboration between iNET, VHA clinicians, Central Virginia VA in Richmond, VA, and Wareologie.
The goal was to develop a set of light weight, easily transportable parallel bars for patients who could no longer go to physical therapy due to COVID-19 restrictions.
The collaboration with Wearologie resulted in two prototypes. The first was piloted in the Physical Therapy department at Central Virginia VA in September 2021. The prototype was modified based on the feedback and design recommendations from clinicians. A second prototype was piloted in February 2022.
Today, the Portable Parallel Bars on Wheels are a Class 1, Food and Drug Administration-registered device available for purchase throughout VA. Class 1 devices, like elastic bandages, present minimal potential for harm to a user and are simple in their design.
Zeph Technologies – Helping patients breathe easier
Zeph Technologies has developed the Zeph, an easy-to-use, easy-to-carry personal lung trainer that helps respiratory patients stay on top of their disease all from the comfort of their home. Zeph monitors lung condition symptoms while also strengthening lung muscles.
As part of a test pilot, Zeph is working with VA to test the product’s usability and effectiveness with clinicians and patients. The three stages of research and discovery with VA will help Zeph improve the product’s efficacy and user experience.
Currently, VA is holding confidential virtual learning sessions with Veterans from multiple VA health care systems throughout the country who are open to discussing their respiratory conditions like COPD or Asthma. These sessions allow both VA and Zeph to understand what it is like to live with these conditions, how patients manage their symptoms, and what they think about using such a device.
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