GAO: VA Reported Wait Times are Unreliable
The Veterans Administration has not been reporting reliable data to Congress regarding wait times for outpatient treatment. This was the conclusion of a recent study by the Government Accounting Office. The GAO also found that there was inconsistent implementation of certain elements of VHA’s scheduling policy that could result in increased wait times or delays in scheduling timely medical appointments.
The GAO visited several Veterans Affairs Medical Centers around the country, and found significant compliance problems with the appointment wait time reporting process. Several VAMCs did not ensure staffers completed required training on the appointment setting process.
At every center they visited, GAO inspectors found at least one staffer who was recording the patient’s desired appointment date incorrectly. Additionally, investigators found that staffers were actually able to change a record of a requested appointment date – in order to show a number that would meet the VA’s stated policy objectives. The result is a significant skewing of appointment time data.
The bottom line: As bad as the wait time numbers coming out of the VA these days looks, the reality is even worse.
In addition, the GAO found that several clinics they studied were not using the electronic wait list to schedule appointments – which created an elevated risk that some patients would “fall through the cracks.”
The GAO also cited these factors impeding VA mission success:
- An antiquated scheduling system, VistA, which is over 25 years old, slow and cumbersome.
- Gaps in scheduler staffing.
- Lack of staff dedicated to answering phones.
The recent increase in suicides among veterans has put the VA under greater scrutiny. The GAO survey did not specifically focus on mental health care facilities and appointment wait times, but described the VA scheduling problems as “pervasive.”
VHA officials have expressed an ongoing commitment to providing veterans with timely access to medical appointments and have reported continued improvements in achieving this goal,” the GAO report stated. However, it concluded, “Unreliable wait time measurement has resulted in a discrepancy between the positive wait time performance VA has reported and veterans’ actual experiences.”