Dr. Indra Sandal wins the 3rd Kolosky Healthcare Innovator Award

Missed medical appointments are harmful for a patient’s health and costly for healthcare providers. In a large system like the Veterans’ Health Administration, missed appointments near two-million per year and cost taxpayers an estimated $4.4 billion per year.

Dr. Indra Sandal, PhD., MBA spearheaded a partnership between the VA and Uber to address this challenge. Creation of the VHA-Uber Health Connect Initiative (VUHC) is one example of Dr. Sandal’s innovation in the delivery of healthcare and a major reason she was chosen as the winner of the Jack A. Kolosky Healthcare Innovator Award.

Dr. Sandal came to the James A Haley Veterans’ Hospital in Uptown as Chief of Innovation in January of 2023. Prior to that, Dr. Sandal served at the  VA Medical Center in Memphis as a research biologist. Meanwhile, she began her MBA at the Kellogg School of Management studying how innovation and entrepreneurship can transform the health care ecosystem. She took on the role of Innovation Specialist, working to empower fellow frontline innovators as they designed and tested their own solutions and  was selected as a 2020 VHA Innovation Ecosystem Entrepreneur in Residence fellow, where she began developing the VUHC Initiative.

The VHA-Uber Health Connect Initiative (VUHC) was launched at ten VA medical centers in 2022 and has expanded to 58. Since its inception the VUHC has provided 170,000 rides to nearly 28,000 Veterans, and saved VA over $129 million from faster emergency and inpatient discharges and the avoidance of missed appointments. The difference that this innovative initiative has made for the overall health of veterans is immeasurable. In an interview with Air Force Veteran and Veterans Corner Radio Podcast Host, William Hodges, Hodges commented on his experience using the VUHC Initiative to get to his appointments at the Tampa VA Medical Center:

“All in all, it has been absolutely wonderful. It’s a win-win for everybody. The VA is getting appointments filled that they weren’t getting filled and it’s making it so much easier on caregivers.” He added, “Without a doubt, it’s convenient. I have used it three times myself, I will use it again in the future, I love it!”

The VUHC Initiative leverages existing processes and tools used by transportation teams and did not require increased staffing. It has streamlined the ride request process, providing a simple solution for care coordinators to help Veterans arrange their transportation. One mobility manager shared that his facility had a patient who needed a long ride and that the initial vendor quoted his trip at $1,800. They were able to transport the Veteran for only $111 with the VUHC program.

As the Chief of Innovation at Uptown’s James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital, Dr. Sandal works to build an ecosystem for people, technology, and community development to deliver transformative innovations to solve complex challenges within the VA healthcare system. She is focused on engaging and bringing together national and local partners to empower the local community and to help improve the quality of care delivered to Veterans. Another major endeavor for Dr. Sandal is actively building a coalition and ecosystem that will establish a new nationally recognized center for innovation to be called the National Center for Transformation Innovation (NC4TI).

The Jack A. Kolosky Healthcare Innovator Award was presented to Dr. Indra Sandal at Soaring City’s Verizon State of Uptown on February 29th. Named for retired Moffitt Hospital President and former Tampa Innovation Partnership (now Soaring City) Executive Board member, Jack Kolosky, the Healthcare Innovator Award recognizes an individual or group in Tampa’s Uptown Innovation Quarter who has made a significant advancement in the delivery of healthcare.

The other finalists for this year’s award were NeuroEM Therapeutics, Inc., a company developing breakthrough technology, originally developed at USF, that has the dual use of treating and reversing the cognitive effects of diseases, like Alzheimer’s Disease; Dr. Brian Palumbo, an orthopedic surgeon who has designed 3 knee implant procedures, secured several patents, and donated procedures to hundreds of un/underinsured patients; Pioneer Medical Foundation, which operates free clinics including one in Uptown that has provided free services for hundreds of patients; and Dr. Kyle Reed, Director of the Rehabilitation Engineering and Electromechanical Design Lab at the USF Research Park, who developed a portable, lightweight device designed to help stroke patients improve their walking ability called iStride.