Last week, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) launched a new online Access and Quality Tool to help veterans get patient wait time and quality of care data. The website provides patients of the VA health system the ability to answer four questions: How quickly can my VA facility see me? How satisfied are veterans with their care in my facility? How does care in my VA facility compare to other hospitals in the area? How is the VA system doing with access nationally?
Veterans can use the tool to compare average times in their local area; how other patients are experiencing scheduling primary and specialty-care appointments at specific VA facilities; timeliness of appointments for care needed right away; and compare certain quality measures for VA medical centers with private-sector hospitals in their area. The tool provides data on quality measures found on the CMS Hospital Compare site. The next phase of the tool will include outpatient measures.
Officials at VA said that the tool will likely encourage competition and spur the medial facilities within the system to proactively address access and quality. Studies have shown that data on how their peers are doing in certain measures motivates physicians to improve. The new tool also helps empower veterans through more information and transparency about the often complex health system.
An innovative culture is imperative to VA, which is the nation’s largest integrated health system in the US. In addition to serving almost nine million veterans annually at over 1,700 care sites, it is also the nation’s largest provider of graduate medical education and is heavily involved in medical research. A 2010 study from the Center for Information Technology Leadership found that its investment of $4 billion on health information technology in the previous decade generated $3 billion in savings by eliminating problems that plague many hospitals and health systems, such as duplicative testing and in efficient operations.
Related: Last week, the President signed legislation extending the Veteran’s Choice Program, which was set to expire in August. The legislation allows the VA to spend $1 billion in remaining funding to subsidize non-VA medical care for veterans who face long wait times or distances to access VA medical facilities. The bill passed the House and Senate earlier this month, however, lawmakers are interested in figuring out long-term solutions rather than emergency funding in the future.
As discussed in Deloitte’s health policy belief, Realizing the potential of telehealth, VA’s progress in telehealth is an example of its early accomplishments in developing innovative strategies to increase patient access. VA served over 150,000 beneficiaries with telehealth services in 2012. Telehealth was associated with a 25 percent reduction in number of bed days of care and a 19 percent reduction in hospital admissions across all VA patients. VA studies show videoconferencing can successfully treat post-traumatic stress disorder, and that treating mental health issues via telehealth can be effective when compared to face-to-face visits.
Source: Allison Liebhaber, Debra A. Draper, Genna R. Cohen, Hospital strategies to engage physicians in quality improvement, October 2009
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