One VA employee had a productive first week on the job.
Ebony Dillard, a physical therapy assistant at VA Augusta Healthcare System, observed that patients who fall often have limited strength in their lower extremities due to conditions such as stroke, incomplete spinal cord injury, or vestibular impairment. So, she had the idea to design a “Device for gait, Efficiency, and Balance,” or DEB, to help prevent Veteran falls.
“Currently, there is nothing to assist patients to keep their feet apart while they build up the lower extremity strength,” said Dillard, who approached VA Augusta’s innovation specialist during her new employee orientation. “I named it after my mother, Debbie. I am who I am because of how my mom raised me and I wanted to make sure she was a part of it.”
Dillard applied for the local innovation program and received unanimous support to develop her idea locally. She collaborated with the VA Augusta physical therapy team to create multiple prototypes, improving its function with the help of human-centered design.
“Human-centered design is a methodology we use to solve problems by focusing on human needs first,” said Kelsey Shull, innovation specialist and VHA Innovators Network Human Centered Design Lead. “Matching people's needs and developing solutions … with what is technologically feasible and viable can lead to innovation.”
Dillard perfected her design by measuring all aspects of a Veteran’s walk. Along the way, she tried different techniques and listened to Veterans and their family members as to what felt most comfortable. As the prototypes evolved, so did the Veteran’s walking distance.
The VA innovation community recently acknowledged the potential impact of Dillard’s work for Veteran care, naming it the top innovation project across the VA Southeast Network in September. In addition, the DEB was awarded a provisional patent. Dillard applied for the 2023 VA Spark-Seed-Spread employee investment program where she will continue to refine her functional prototype with the guidance of VA national offices and healthcare innovation experts. She will eventually implement a pilot program to spread her design to other VA medical centers throughout the country.
To learn more about VHA Innovators Network (iNET), visit https://www.innovation.va.gov/ecosystem/views/innovators-network/innovators-network.html