North Florida doctors bring a big, furry idea to veterans health event

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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - Imagine having a pet without the hassle of feeding and cleaning up after it everyday. It's a concept North Florida veterans health workers are taking to Washington, D.C. this week at the Veterans Health Administration Innovation Experience.

“We’re looking at ways that we can still give that sense of pet ownership and companionship,” said Dr. Carrie Ambrose from the North Florida/South Georgia Veteans Health system.

Dr. Ambrose and her colleague Dr. Carly Ostrom are getting these robotic pets in the paws of veterans. The doctors say veterans with dementia moving into new environments can be stressful and aggravating. Some may not be able to handle their own pets, so these robotic replacements help fill the void.

“We’ve seen reduction in aggressive behaviors, more prosocial behaviors such as engagement with the pet and with other veterans. They like to show off their pet,” said Ambrose.

They say the pets have helped lead to a 75 percent reduction in aggressive behavior. Ostrom believes it’s a cost-effective way to get these veterans a life-like interaction with a pet.

“It’s hard to quantify how meaningful our pets can be to us so to be able to give that to a veteran is important,” said Dr. Ostrom.

VA leaders tell us it’s full speed ahead with this kind of innovation. They say these gatherings allow for face-to-face collaboration that leads to smarter care for veterans.

“We’re here because we want to ensure that the veteran experience is the best possible that we can deliver and innovation is one way that we get there,” said John D’Adamo, acting director of the Veterans Health Administration Innovators Network.

D’Adamo says bringing folks together from around the country allows for education and collaboration. He stresses that one-size-fits-all innovation is not effective when the focus needs to be on each individual veteran.

“Working with individuals and being understanding of their unique needs. So we really want to encourage that with all of our projects,” said D’Adamo.

The third annual event concludes Thursday night.