Weekly Columns

The Emmy award-winning TV show “Shark Tank” provides entrepreneurs an avenue to pitch their inventions to investors who decide if they want to help finance the product. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has taken this idea and launched its own twist on the hit program, called the Diffusion of Excellence, to jumpstart innovation at the agency and quickly spread practices with proven results. Arkansans are at the forefront of this initiative and it’s benefiting veterans in our state.

Dr. Kimberly Garner, a geriatrician who leads clinical demonstration projects and educational development at the Little Rock VA Geriatric Research Education and Clinical Center, shared her innovative work with the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee at a recent hearing.

As the daughter of a Korean War veteran, Dr. Garner has a passion for providing veteran-driven care. Having personally felt the pressure to make medical decisions for her father, she was inspired to create an advance care planning program for veterans.

With the help of Arkansas veterans, she developed a program that allows our men and women who served in uniform to receive the care they desire should they become physically unable to communicate those wishes to family and caregivers. The group visits for advance care planning allow veterans to hear the ideas of their peers, an idea Dr. Garner says is a particular advantage of the project because veterans listen to other veterans.

Dr. Garner’s innovative strategy is a success story that VA aims to replicate system-wide. Her work was selected for national roll-out as part of the Diffusion of Excellence competition, leading to the development of a national tool kit for use in VA medical centers across the country. In addition, she was selected to be a VA Gold Status Best Practice Fellow for her innovative work. Dr. Garner was one of only 10 out of 200 applicants to earn this honor.

In its first year, the Diffusion of Excellence program has generated more than 260 ongoing innovations in 70 facilities. The Central Arkansas Veterans Health System (CAVHS) is at the forefront of these efforts. In addition to supporting Dr. Garner’s advance care planning initiative, CAVHS facilities also support the Regional Liver Tumor Board, allowing veterans to benefit from a comprehensive virtual team’s assessment and diagnosis of abnormal imagery and are implementing E-screening services to improve mental health care for patients and increase the quantity of time that is spent discussing medical care needs.

Having the opportunity to discuss the Diffusion of Excellence with my Senate VA colleagues and hear about improvements to the quality of care for our veterans is an important part of our commitment to these men and women. We must modernize the way we serve our veterans and constantly advance our efforts.

This program invests in the ideas of VA employees who are on the frontline in caring for our veterans. Engaging these employees in this process gives them a voice in the direction of the VA and challenges them to develop new ideas to improve the care of our veterans. The Diffusion of Excellence program enables employees throughout VA to learn from their peers and colleagues who are experimenting with and implementing innovative, effective treatments and practices. The goal of identifying these best practices will have a long term impact on the positive healthcare outcomes for our veterans.