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Arkansans at D.C. event offer examples of care innovation

by Frank E. Lockwood | October 24, 2019 at 3:32 a.m.

WASHINGTON -- At the Veterans Health Administration's Innovation Experience this week, Arkansans highlighted homegrown programs designed to save money, extend lives and improve people's quality of life.

The annual event is designed to "enable the discovery and spread of health care innovation that exceeds expectations, restores hope, and builds trust," according to agency officials.

The Arkansans all work for the Central Arkansas Veterans Healthcare System.

On Wednesday, they gave presentations in Washington, D.C.

During a session on "clinical innovation," Dr. Sara S. Battar, the system's associate chief of staff, geriatrics and extended care services, spoke about an electronic "medication management tool" called VIONE. It helps doctors to analyze a patient's prescriptions to make sure they are all necessary. Since its launch, the program has saved taxpayers roughly $4 million, officials said.

At a session on "health enabling technology," Alyssa Welch, a recreational therapist, described the system's Recreation Therapy TV program.

It enables patients to play bingo, attend chapel services, enjoy periodic concerts or participate in resident council meetings -- all without leaving their rooms.

"Just about anything that's going on on campus, you can be a part of from your bed if you're bed-bound," Welch said.

During the same session, registered nurse Renee Butler introduced the audience to the Shoe Slide. When attached to the bottom of a shoe, it "eliminates the friction between the foot and floor," enabling the system's patients to slide -- or be slid -- without losing their balance.

The little attachment is inexpensive, easy to attach and simple to operate, Butler said.

"All this high tech is awesome," Butler said, a nod to some of the other items on display. "This is about as low tech as you can get."

During the "innovative research" session, a clinical psychologist, Dr. Sara Landes, highlighted Caring Contacts, a "simple and effective suicide-prevention intervention" that has been studied in Washington state and Arkansas.

With Caring Contacts, patients who have been suicidal are periodically sent "expressions of care and concern," according to a summary of the research.

The messages are "brief, nondemanding" communications, according to Landes, who also works as an associate professor at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.

They say things like: "It's been awhile since we've seen you. We hope you're doing well. We're here if you need us."

Studies show that the gestures are beneficial, reducing the number of suicides and suicide attempts.

Roughly 500 people attended this year's Innovation Experience, organizers said. Another 2,000 viewed portions of the event via livestream.

Kit Teague, a Russellville native and deputy director of the administration's Innovation Ecosystem, said the annual event is special.

"This is a celebration" and an opportunity for "everybody to tell their story, how they're impacting the veterans," he added.

Dr. Ryan Vega, executive director of the Innovation Ecosystem, said it's no coincidence that the Central Arkansas Veterans Healthcare System was well-represented.

"We've been really impressed with that site specifically; some great work coming out of it," he said.

The emphasis on "innovation" is intentional, he said.

"The difference between research and innovation is research is about learning and contributing to knowledge. Innovation's about solving problems," Vega said.

"Our mantra is 'changing lives, saving lives,'" he said. "We measure our success in lives saved and changed."

Metro on 10/24/2019

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