May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Innovation Health Chief Medical Officer Sunil Budhrani urges Virginians to start a conversation about mental health. Budhrani moderated the Digital Health panel at NVTC’s Health Care Informatics & Analytics Conference on May 5.


Even for a medical expert, mental health can be a difficult topic to talk about.

I know the terminology, proper treatment plans and resources. But as a society (even among health providers), we often don’t know how to talk to those in need of mental health support – sometimes including ourselves. It’s uncomfortable. It’s emotional. It’s personal. So we don’t share. Don’t ask. Don’t act. And suicide rates across our nation skyrocket.

We need to talk about mental health.

When I joined Innovation Health as Chief Medical Officer last month, I sat down with my team and we made a collective decision. We decided to speak from our own personal experiences with mental health, however imperfectly. Because talking about mental health is the best way to truly help remove the stigma associated with mental health conditions.

Working as an ER doctor, I frequently saw patients whose anxiety and depression had gone unmanaged and ultimately led them to attempt suicide. Some I was able to help. For others there was nothing I could do. I realized that many times these patients weren’t getting the help they needed because they feared being labeled or misunderstood. Time and again, I saw that the cost of not treating these symptoms could be fatal.

Now, after so many years, so many news reports, and seeing so many of my colleagues and friends struggle, it is clear to me that we must confront the topic of mental health head-on if we are truly going to make a difference.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month and I hope it will be a catalyst for this critical conversation, which impacts so many Americans.

The proof is in the numbers: according to the National Institute of Mental Health, nearly one in four adults and one in five children in the U.S.  has a diagnosable mental health condition. In Virginia, more than 230,000 adults – roughly 3.8 percent of the population – have experienced a serious mental illness. These facts tell me one thing; we are not alone. We all know someone, work with someone, or love someone who struggles with mental illness. We may struggle with it ourselves. The fact is that anxiety, depression and substance abuse touch every community. The time to accept this is now. The time to speak up and reach out is now.

Many people don’t get the services they need because they don’t know where to start. If you or someone you know is struggling, you can start the healing process by following these three steps:

  1. Talk to a primary care physician about your mental health. They can help connect you with the right mental health support. If you do not have a PCP, I highly recommend you select one for your general health care needs.
  2. Educate yourself. Visit the Innovation Health website to take a depression or anxiety assessment or call 703-289-7560 to schedule an in-person assessment with a trained counselor.
  3. Be proactive about mental well-being. If you know someone who may be experiencing symptoms related to a mental health condition, encourage them to get the help they need.

It is never easy or comfortable to approach situations like this, but as a community we can’t let our fear or doubts stop us from helping others or ourselves dealing with mental illness. Talk about metal health with your family, friends and colleagues not just this month, but all year.

Together we can work to build a healthier world. But first, we have to start the conversation.

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Kristin D’Amore of Dovel Technologies provides a look into how Virginia is supporting student innovation, an essential asset to the Commonwealth’s economy.


New businesses account for nearly all net new job creation and almost 20 percent of gross job creation as well as being responsible for a disproportionate share of innovative activity in the United States.* There is an enormous amount of entrepreneurial activity occurring at institutions of higher learning throughout the country, and Virginia is taking strides to strengthen student innovation on its campuses. On April 14, 2016, Governor Terry McAuliffe signed into law legislation that directs the Boards of Visitors of public colleges and universities to adopt intellectual property (IP) policies that are supportive of student entrepreneurship. The legislation, which was sponsored by Del. Charniele Herring, was supported by NVTC and a broad coalition of higher education and business community organizations across Virginia.

The legislation reduces some barriers to entry for student entrepreneurs by clarifying existing university IP policies to specify the conditions under which institutions of higher education own intellectual property as opposed to student ownership. Current policies at some institutions of higher education create uncertainty about IP ownership, which discourages students from launching new ventures, starting businesses, or commercializing research based on their own ideas. The bill encourages a campus culture that supports entrepreneurship and motivates Virginia’s universities to be hubs of creativity and innovation with the potential to drive regional economic growth through research commercialization and new business formation.

The issue of student entrepreneurship and IP rights was raised by the Governor’s Council on Youth Entrepreneurship, which was formed in August 2015 to study and recommend ways to support young business owners and innovators in the Commonwealth. The group is comprised of leaders in higher education, business, innovators and entrepreneurs. As a member of the Council, I was pleased to see an early win for young entrepreneurs and students across Virginia.

Increased student innovation and promoting IP commercialization and new patents by students is critical to growing Virginia’s economy.  Statistics from the Council on Virginia’s Future show that although Virginia’s rate of patent formation has improved in recent years, it is still well below the U.S. average. Furthermore, Virginia universities generated 1.94 startups per one million residents in 2013, measurably below the national rate of 2.38 startups and ranking the Commonwealth 27th in the country.

The Council on Youth Entrepreneurship is continuing its efforts assessing resources and opportunities in Virginia for young entrepreneurs and will be presenting additional recommendations to the Governor later this year.  The Council will make additional recommendations on areas including financial incentives for business formation, improving regulatory processes for entrepreneurs, strengthening academic programs for student innovators in K – 12 and higher education, and marketing the assets of Virginia’s education system to students, faculty, and business leaders across the country.  The Council’s efforts are focused on providing the next generation of entrepreneurs and innovators a solid foundation from which to launch their ideas, ultimately leading to further growth in the economy.

* According to the Kauffman Foundation, the largest foundation in the world devoted to entrepreneurship.

Kristin D’Amore is Director, Market Development and Strategy at Dovel Technologies and a member of Governor McAuliffe’s Council on Youth Entrepreneurship. 

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Ignoring Innovation Means Getting Left Behind

February 23rd, 2016 | Posted by Sarah Jones in Guest Blogs - (Comments Off)

According to this week’s blog post from member company Social SafeGuard, in today’s highly competitive marketplace, innovation is what ultimately sets a company apart from the rest of the market. Innovation is an essential part of any business that does not want to be left behind, and it can come in many forms when it comes to how a company communicates with its customer base.


Social media is currently the most powerful and effective communications tool available. Twenty five years ago the concept of a globally available, user-generated content platform didn’t exist. Today, the utilization of this platform is a key to success for any business. In today’s highly competitive marketplace, innovation is what ultimately sets a company apart from the rest of the market; it is an essential part of any business that does not want to be left behind. Innovation can come in many forms when it comes to how a company communicates with its customer base.

free_social_media_icons_image_ubersocialmediaIn order for a company to effectively satisfy their customer’s wants and needs, they must constantly communicate and listen to them; furthermore, companies must use the findings of this communication to adapt their product or service accordingly. 72 percent of adult internet users in the U.S. are now active on at least one social network, up from 67 percent in 2012 and just 8 percent in 2005. It is obvious that social media is the most effective way to reach and engage with today’s consumer. History is littered with companies that were once dominant players within their industry, but failed to effectively engage and listen to their customers, which eventually led to their demise. Two prime examples of this are Kodak and Blockbuster.

1. The Last Kodak Moment: Kodak was the primary player in the camera industry for almost a century. Kodak was the American technology company known for inventing color film, the handheld movie camera, and the first digital camera. In the late 1990s, Kodak began to struggle financially due to its sluggish transition to digital photography, regardless of the fact that they invented the core technology used in current digital cameras. After 132 years of business, Kodak officially filed for bankruptcy in 2012 due to their inability to adapt to the changing camera industry. All Kodak had to do was communicate with their customers to discover that preferences were changing, but instead they chose to stick with what they had always done, which resulted in a loss of competitive advantage and economic failure.

2. Blockbuster: For many years, Blockbuster was the dominant player in the movie rental industry. Once Netflix, Redbox, and On Demand Cable Services entered the market, trends quickly changed to customers wanting videos instantly and conveniently. Blockbuster chose not to adapt to the changing marketplace until it was too late. In 2010, the company filed for bankruptcy after 25 years of business and the majority of their stores closed shortly thereafter. While Blockbuster still attempts to mimic their competitors in an effort to regain any possible market share, they are now chasing the industry instead of leading it.

Every company must adapt and embrace social media if they do not want to become the Kodak or Blockbuster of their industry. Social media allows people to create, share, or exchange information and ideas in virtual communities and networks. Unlike traditional communication tools, social media has unmatched reach, frequency, and usability. Social media is the medium in which today’s consumer chooses to communicate. It would be foolish for any company to not adopt a platform that provides a free flow of information with a global reach, where all of their current and potential customers are present, and openly telling the companies exactly what they want.

If Blockbuster would have been proactive and engaged their customers, it is possible they would now have 57 million subscribers streaming videos in over 50 countries, and Netflix would be nothing but a failed startup.

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This week on NVTC’s blog, Innovation Health CEO Dave Notari shares how health IT has made serious progress, closing communication and care gaps.


The healthcare industry hasn’t traditionally been known as an early adopter when it comes to implementing the latest technology – as folks in the heart of the Northern Virginia technology community know all too well. But over the past few years we’ve made some serious progress.

Dave Notari

Dave Notari

Since the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was signed into law there’s been a dramatic national up-tick in the use of personal health technology (think Fitbit!), as well as technology designed to help consumers navigate the healthcare system and make better choices on behalf of their families.

When technology is implemented within a progressive and proactive health care management model, we start to close communication and care gaps, reduce medical errors and encourage healthy habits. Northern Virginia is a hub of tech innovation, and technology is poised to improve the health care experience for residents in three very important ways over the next few years.

Improving Health Literacy

In early 2015 a Kaiser Family Foundation survey [1] found that there were 11 million newly insured adults as of December 2014. For some, it may have been their first experience with enrolling for health coverage and having to learn a wide array of health and health benefits terms. Health care language can be difficult to understand, and with high deductible health plans (HDHP)s  on the rise, understanding coverage needs and what is available in-network is more vital than ever before. With the right consumer tools and simpler language, health providers and businesses can make health information clearer to consumers, aid decision-making, and ensure that they are informed and able to choose the plan that works best for them and their family.

Many of us expect that buying and selecting our health plan should be as easy as buying a pair of shoes—as insurers begin to implement this type of technology we can expect that to become more of a reality.

Improving the Quality of Care

When it comes to improving the overall quality of Northern Virginia healthcare, technology provides opportunities for better coordination and collaboration among key stakeholders.  Our health care system today is characterized by fragmentation, inefficiency and waste. In addition, it’s not as convenient or connected as it could be. Deploying technology to connect hospitals, physicians and providers would transform the way healthcare is currently delivered and provide numerous benefits to NOVA consumers.

Take, for example, someone who needs to see a specialist. Before electronic health records (EHRs) and technology that allows doctors to electronically share patient health information were available a Primary Care Physician (PCP) would have to fax the patient’s chart to a specialist, the patient or doctor would have to call to ensure the information arrived, and if it did not the patient would have to rely on her memory to recount for the doctor her entire medical history. Today, doctors using EHRs and health information exchange technology have the ability to seamlessly coordinate their patients’ care and share critical patient data, which lessens the hassle factor for patients. Additionally, certain technologies can even allow patients to review their own secure personal health records, pinpoint in-network doctors and facilities, get cost-saving pop-up alerts and use digital ID cards for all of their check-ups and appointments.

Beyond making patient health records more accessible, technology can also help identify patients who may be at risk of certain conditions or those with potential gaps in care so doctors can act to prevent complications.

Lowering Costs

Technology has the ability to help consumers understand the cost of services before they are actually accessed—something I personally found useful a few months ago when my son was in need of a CT scan. My wife was referred to a doctor, and like most moms was going off of the doctor’s recommendation without any insight into places she could have the CT performed or what the cost would be at different facilities. This is pretty common. Using a health care payment estimator tool I was able to find all of the different care sites and costs in a five-mile radius of our home.  The result? My son received a CT scan for $250 rather than the doctor’s recommended site which was $600. Since I have a HDHP, I saved an additional outlay of $350—all thanks to technology!

It is safe to assume that technology is going to transform the healthcare space. By continuing to look for and implement new technologies and solutions we have the ability to improve patient and employer education, improve health outcomes, and save money on health costs.

[1] Rachel Garfield, Katherine Young, Adults who Remained Uninsured at the End of 2014, (The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, 2015), Issue Brief

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imageIn today’s workplace, a company must change to move ahead.  This requires a corporate culture that supports innovation.  (Whereas “invention” is the creation of a new idea, “innovation” is that new idea actually put to the test.)  And because experimenting with new ideas can sometimes lead to a dead end, a success-oriented company must encourage a tolerance for failure.

It’s really not hard to help your employees reach their creative potential.  You simply remove the barriers that impede their innovative ideas.  Here’s how:

  1. Build trust by telling the truth.
    Make sure employees know what is expected of them – then be consistent in your speech and behavior.
  2. Promote risk-taking.
    Use interviews or anonymous surveys to determine if employees hold back ideas – then explain why your company values creative thinking.
  3. Suspend judgment when employees offer recommendations.
    Say “yes, and…” instead of “yes, but…”
  4. Remove fear of blame for ideas that don’t work out.
    Explain that the company holds employees responsible for ideas – which is different from criticizing them when those ideas meet with failure.
  5. Help employees understand failures to prevent repeat occurrences.
    Involve those accountable in after-action reviews, and then make sure all employees understand why an idea did not succeed.

You cannot deny the need for certainty.  It’s only natural for the mind to predict and control the future.  But since the only certainty is change, the only companies who keep ahead of the curve are those which encourage innovation – even at the cost of failure.

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NVTC is inviting members to serve as guest bloggers, sharing insights and information on trends or business issues relevant to other members. Moira Lethbridge of member company Lethbridge & Associates shares her insights below.

MLethbridge 1

How Companies are Succeeding Using Failure to Increase Creativity and Innovation

Recently I was invited to a Failure Fest.  The event sold out in 48 hours and 400 people attended. It was a celebration of failure as a mark of leadership, innovation and risk-taking in pushing the boundaries of what is possible in scaling ideas from pilots to global programs. I also downloaded an app, Failure Games, which is designed to get the user out of their comfort zone and get rid of the nagging feeling that “I might fail.”  What is all this ‘embracing failure’ about?

Failure can be the beginning of creativity and innovation. 

Companies like Google, Amazon, and several nonprofits are acknowledging, embracing and taking advantage of failure to increase creativity and innovation.

What does this mean? 

Organizations want to learn from their failures to improve products and services and increase revenue and profit. Failure is one barrier to achieving these results.

We hate to fail and this impacts our ability to learn from failure. We think of failure as completely unacceptable because it may hurt our credibility and chances for promotion. Most managers are incentivized by successes and punished for failures, reinforcing the avoidance of acknowledging failures. They also do not have a clear understanding of how to learn from failure.

The avoidance of failure therefore becomes a barrier to increasing creativity and innovation. In order to innovate and be creative, you have to have the possibility of failing.

What brought them to it?

For-profit and nonprofit companies identified that cultural and organizational barriers were getting in the way of innovating.  Organizations want to improve from both a technical (software rollout flopped) and interpersonal (managers avoiding giving feedback to employees) view. They realized the consequences of not having an open failure environment: unreported failures and missed lessons learned.

Why are companies helping their employees make failure productive and even fun?

  • To increase employee engagement and productivity.
    Children’s Hospital and Clinics of Minnesota built a psychologically safe environment to reduce medical errors that frames the work accurately, embraces the messenger, acknowledges limits, invites participation, sets boundaries and holds people accountable.
  • To increase revenue and profit and transform their company.
    IBM started ‘ValuesJam’.  This experiment allowed employees to share their concerns and ideas online for 72 hours.  From this feedback they determined how the company was failing and succeeding with its employees and customers and agreed on its values and what was worth preserving and what needed to change.
  • To differentiate themselves from their competitors.
    Kurante.com, Plan International USA and TechChange.org hosted a Fail Festival to celebrate failure as a mark of leadership, innovation and risk-taking in pushing the boundaries of what it possible in scaling ideas from pilots to global programs.
  • To have employees learn faster by learning to fail intelligently.
    Google incentivizes their employees with dinners and weekend getaways to fail fast and share lessons learned.
  • To let employees know that failure is nothing to be ashamed of.
    DoSomething.org hosts a Pink-Boa Failfest every quarter that reinforces their message, “It’s OK to fail.”

failure is the key to success

How are companies embracing failure to increase creativity and innovation?

Leaders are creating environments for allowing failures to surface and be examined.  They do this by first defining what failure means and looks like in their organization.  They differentiate blameworthy and praiseworthy failures.  Leaders allow for openness, curiosity, patience and tolerance of ambiguity. An example is Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis where leaders developed a ‘blameless reporting’ system to encourage employees to reveal medical errors immediately as well as other information that can be used to deconstruct the failure and learn from it.

Companies use proactive feedback as a way to identify many types of failures.  IBM used ValuesJam to get data that help them identify failures. General Electric has an 800 number for all products and customers can report problems, with a call center available 24/7/365.  They receive almost 3 million calls a year.

DoSomething.org (www.dosomething.org) hosts a Pink Boa Failure Fest every quarter. It’s completely off the record and anybody can join: interns, employees, board of directors. Two people are chosen and put on a big pink feather boa. For ten minutes they explain their goal and its history, what happened, what they learned personally, and what the company learned. They finish with a two-minute question and answer period.  DoSomething.org does this to say failure is nothing to be ashamed of.

Google encourages their employees in many training courses to take risks, and failures are OK, as long as they fail early during the prototype or experimentation stage. They also have awards for projects that failed to celebrate taking risks and learning. Google has an analysis process for determining what went wrong and lessons learned to apply to the next project.

My blog series will focus on increasing innovation; what gets in the way, how to remove those barriers, and practical examples for increasing creativity and innovation in your organization.

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