VA’s Kidney Innovation Summit

Seeding Opportunities for Better Health

When Anna (*name changed), a long-term dialysis patient, began telling her story to the audience she apologized if she started to cry. Though she is courageous, the weight and challenges facing her are sometimes a lot to hold. She took some time to speak to the room about her journey. She recounted her sacrifices receiving dialysis three times a week. The time constraints on her family are significant and she lives through the struggle of finding a kidney donor. She and her family live with the reality of kidney disease, and she isn’t the only one. Throughout the VA Kidney Innovation Summit patients, many of them Veterans, took the stage to speak about their experiences living — living! — with this disease.

“My life changed on June 28 of 2008 when I had an examination at my primary physician office,” Robert, Gulf War Veteran and kidney transplant recipient, told the audience at the summit. “I was told my kidneys were failing … I can’t go back to work. That was the saddest day of my life.”


20 million American adults live with chronic kidney disease; 1 million of these patients are Veterans. This is an industry ripe for innovation across the entire spectrum of kidney disease, from prevention to treatment.

A dig into the numbers quickly illuminates the opportunity for rethinking how we, as a community, seek to influence the future of kidney healthcare to better apply resources and improve the patient experience. Medicare spends $80 billion annually to care for those with kidney disease and for VA kidney care is not only costly in terms of money ($516 million for dialysis, 2016), but also in terms of resources. NIH spent $564 million and VA, $18.3 million in kidney disease research in 2015. While a significant sum, that is a small percentage of the total cost of the kidney disease burden in America. In budget-constrained environments, creative and steady innovation is needed more than ever… and it’s possible!

Perhaps the most illustrative example of limited innovation in the field came from one of the panelists. He highlighted the fact that since the invention of the insulin pump for diabetes over 40 years ago, it has evolved from a massive backpack to a tiny, easy-to-carry, and discrete self-use medical tool. Dialysis machines for kidney health, on the other hand, have not changed much at all, requiring patients to be immobile for upwards of four hours multiple times a week in their doctor’s offices or, for the lucky few, at home.

Innovations in insulin pumps led to tranforming patients lives

Patients and their families have declared: Something must be done for kidney health.

We agree.

Over two blustery days in February in Washington DC, the VA Center for Innovation (VACI) assembled creative and driven minds to catalyze a shift; to create openings so tangible innovations can grow. The Kidney Innovation Summit brought together over 150 great minds to think through new approaches to prevent and treat kidney disease. With our partner, the American Society of Nephrology, we joined to kick start the future of kidney care. We didn’t just talk about how to change kidney care, the convening led to the seeds of innovation and advances in renal replacement therapy, early detection, home dialysis and many more moments that matter across a patients’ journey. Throughout the two days attendees — including Veterans, patients, Federal health care innovators, private sector care providers, scientists from academia, and VA medical professionals — brainstormed how we might reimagine the solutions to challenges faced by patients with kidney disease and their families and develop innovations to meet the needs of this growing population.

“Kidney disease burdens over 1 million Veterans receiving care in VA and this burden isn’t just restricted to Veterans — their family, friends, and careers are also significantly impacted. The unmet needs discussed at the Kidney Innovation Summit proved that kidney health is ripe for innovation at multiple points along the patient journey from identification of risk, diagnosis, treatment, transplant, and beyond,” said Jarah Meador, Innovation Sourcing Lead at VA Center for Innovation.

After a series of presentations of unmet needs and exhibits of current innovations, the attendees rolled up their sleeves and began to evolve these initial ideas. Lightning pitches rolled and teams formed with patients to co-design and evolve these initial ideas: https://twitter.com/VAInnovation/status/830086513715245057.

VA Kidney Innovation Summit attendees discussing current challenges

We’ve only just begun. And we need you.

The Summit helped to illuminate key areas of opportunity ripe for innovations to improve kidney health. As such, VA and our partners are currently synthesizing what we learned and VACI plans to release an opportunity for our industry partners to work with us in this quest. The planned funding will be open to competitive offers from private sector, academia, and non-profits to develop, prototype, and pilot innovations in kidney disease. In an effort to target an even larger audience of innovators, VACI is also planning a crowd-sourcing challenge focused on developing a nutrition decision tool for kidney disease patients and their caregivers. We look forward to co-designing with our veterans, patients, and other solvers.

Stay tuned! VACI plans to announce both opportunities here and here and here! (As well as the official announcement here.)

Start your engines…!

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