Revolutionary is a regular series from the VHA Innovation Ecosystem. The series focuses on VA employees who are disrupting the status-quo, breaking down barriers and attempting to radically revolutionize Veteran care and employee experience.
From the moment oncology certified nurse and innovation revolutionary Tiniska Brooks joined VA in 2019, she was thinking of ways to innovate. Her inherent innovative spirit spiked amid Covid-19 as the pandemic began to curtail elective surgeries and procedures.
Brooks understood the potential long-term implications of delays in the diagnosis and treatment of colorectal cancer – the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States.
The backlog in cancer treatments continued to grow and screening rates dropped, so Brooks jumped into action. She changed common practice and streamlined the pre- and post-procedure processes for colonoscopies, a crucial procedure for early detection of colorectal cancer.
Enhancing existing resources
Building off Annie, a text messaging capability that promotes self-care for Veterans, Brooks and her team revolutionized Annie into a Customer Relationship Management System.
Oncology certified nurse Tiniska Brooks
“By creating a protocol to mirror care pathways, workflows and guidelines, we could upscale and integrate Annie into our practice. With a few clicks, Annie self-automates engagement with Veterans, from enrollment to their anticipated colonoscopy procedure date,” Brooks said.
Using one application to educate patients, reinforce their plan of care, deliver pre-procedural information, manage staff’s time and automate appointment reminders led to significant improvements for patients and staff.
That’s when she entered VHA Innovation Ecosystem’s (VHA IE) Shark Tank competition in 2021, just three months after piloting Cancer Prevention at your Fingertips: Empowering Veterans Through Mobile Applications.
With her innovative idea to expand capabilities of the existing Annie application, nurses saved 47 hours of time and over $200,000 in just three months. This was while keeping up with the need for colonoscopy procedures to ensure colorectal cancer doesn’t go undetected.
Understanding her tour
From the outset, Brooks knew the purpose of her ‘tour’ at VA was to put patient care first. When met with resistance, she quickly developed a strategic case for her revolutionary innovation. She learned that anyone can make a difference. She learned that driving change can be professionally demanding and mentally taxing. Brooks persevered, remained diligent and Veteran-centered. And she turned what was once a “No” into a “Yes.”
“If you have something to bring to the table, bring it up,” Brooks said. “Some people won’t embrace your idea, but if you’re passionate, you cannot be deterred.”
As Brooks did, “Shoot your shot” and embrace your passion. Innovation is all around you as long as you embrace it.
Want to get involved?
Want to support VHA IE’s innovation revolution? Visit our website to learn about opportunities to become involved in innovation at VA.