I am an Innovator, finding a better way - Cincinnati VA Medical Center
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Cincinnati VA Medical Center


I am an Innovator, finding a better way

image of male dispensing eye drops

Above is a picture of a man dispensing eye drops into an eye.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020


Retired U.S. Army Major, Terri Ohlinger has over 30 years of nursing experience, 20 of which have been serving Veterans at the Cincinnati VA. Registered Nurse, Terri Ohlinger, is the Nurse Case Manager of Eye Surgery at the Cincinnati VA Eye Center. In her role as Nurse Case Manager, Terri noticed two extremes when it came to post-operative outcomes. For some, Terri found herself asking the doctors to refill patients eye drop prescriptions earlier than anticipated. For others, she noticed a significant lack of adherence to recommended dosing.

When Terri started asking patients “Why” they could not or would not administer the eye drops, one of the most common responses was, “they could not squeeze the bottle.” It was not just the Veteran, but many caregivers had similar barriers. It wasn’t just dexterity issues that were a problem, but visual issues were also a contributing factor.

“I knew that there had to be a better way,” shared Terri.

Finding a better way

“One day, as Terri observed her 86-year-old father clipping his toe nails using a special clipper for those with impaired manual dexterity, ideas began to develop. It was then that her search for a better way began. During the search, Terri found several commercially available products. Some devices aided in the squeezing aspect of the eye drop administration, others assisted with the aiming of the eye drop. However, no commercially available device did both: aim and squeeze.

Terri decided she WOULD do something about it and started mocking up different designs by doodling on a piece of paper, trying different concepts.

How could she help?

In July 2019, Terri received an email sent to all employees at the Cincinnati VA Medical Center and it caught her attention. Employees with ideas could submit their ideas through the Innovation Network (iNet).

“Did I have an idea?” thought Ohlinger. “Yes, I do.”

Ohlinger contacted Innovation Specialist, Lindsay Riegler, PhD., and shared her idea for the “Drop Ease”. They worked together to apply for a Spark, Innovation Investment program to build a prototype and her idea was accepted by the Innovation Network (iNet).

Meet the VHA Innovation Excosystem

Learn why the Cincinnati VA believes in innovation.

Mission Driven Innovation

“iNet gives the regular person in the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) the opportunity to bring their ideas all the way to completion. We are a part of a group that allows the boots on the ground, the people right at the bedside to address the needs of Veterans,” stated Ohlinger.

“It’s who we serve, what they need, what they want, their ideas. We ask Veterans what works for them, what’s important to them, how will this help them on their journey through their healthcare and we manipulate our process and our project based on those needs. The VA gives us opportunities through the innovation network that other institutions may not have,” shared Ohlinger. iNet provides, the tools, process and projects to give a structure for employees on the front lines with the Veteran and caregivers to what they need.

iNet and Quality of Life +

“If iNet didn’t exist this idea would probably still be just a doodle on a piece of paper,” shared Ohlinger.

As part of the i:Net relationship, Cincinnati VAMC has partnered with Quality of Life + (QL+) a non-profit seeking to match undergraduate level engineers with the unique needs of the Veteran population. Founded by U.S. Air Force Veteran, Jon Monett in 2008, QL+ connected Ohlinger with five engineering students from the College of Engineering and Applied Science at University of Cincinnati (UC) who are collaborating with the Cincinnati VA Medical Center as part of their senior project to build a prototype of the “Drop Ease.”

During a recent conversation with Terri, a caregiver described how difficult it was for her to administer her husband’s eye drops and that her husband couldn’t do it at all. Ohlinger shared her excitement that, “she was working to create a simple to use eye drop dispensing and aiming system specifically designed to help Veterans and Caregivers like themselves. Terri asked the caregiver if they would be interested in her idea.

The caregiver shared, "She'd be the first in line."

Innovation Schedule for Completion

The “Drop-Ease” prototype is currently in the development stage of the Innovation process through the collaboration between Ohlinger at the Cincinnati VAMC and the five U.C. engineering senior students. An initial prototype has been created by the engineering students. The expected completion of the “Drop-Ease” is a three-year process with the intent to produce a working prototype by 2023.

We welcome you to watch this short video and meetTerri Ohlinger!

This story is the first of four stories that will be shared this year regarding innovations that are taking place at the Cincinnati VA Medical Center.

Thank you to Videographer, Chris Malott and Public Affairs Specialist, Kelly Field for producing the first of four Innovator videos the Cincinnati VA Medical Center will share this year.

Thank you to Innovator and Register Nurse Case Manager of Eye Surgery, Terri Ohlinger, RN and Innovation Specialist, Lindsay Riegler, PhD for sharing the information to produce this story and video.

Lisa Hollenbeck is a Public Affairs Specialist at the Cincinnati VA Medical Center and is a Veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps. She was stationed at Kaneohe Bay, HI and served as a Trumpet player in the Marine Forces Pacific Band.

If you have a story idea that you’d like to share please contact Public Affairs Specialist and Minority Veteran Program Coordinator, Lisa Hollenbeck at (513) 861-3100 ext. 6049 and/or by email at lisa.hollenbeck2@va.gov


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