GAO calls into question reliability of VA wait-time data

While the Department of Veterans Affairs has taken steps to address the timeliness of medical appointment scheduling, the VA’s collection of wait-time data to measure its performance is not reliable, according to the Government Accountability Office.

“We continue to be concerned that VA has not sufficiently addressed the reliability of its wait-time data,” testified Debra Draper, director of the GAO’s healthcare team, before a House committee hearing on Wednesday.

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In 2017, the VA launched a new online Access and Quality Tool to provide veterans with what was supposed to be an easy-to-use, easy-to-understand method of accessing patient wait time and quality of care data. Specifically, the tool was meant to enable veterans to access the average times patients are waiting to be seen in their local area.

Also See: VA tool provides patient wait times, quality of care data

However, Draper revealed in her testimony the VA has subsequently been unable to determine the accuracy and reliability of the wait-time data, databases, and data flow from its electronic health records and scheduling system to the agency’s Access and Quality Tool.

“In its first internal audit in August 2018, VA was unable to evaluate the accuracy and reliability of its wait-time data—data posted to its website for use by veterans,” Draper told lawmakers.

“Given our continued concerns about VA’s ability to ensure the reliability of the wait-time data, we plan to obtain additional information from VA about its methodology and assessment of evidence underlying the audit findings,” added Draper in her testimony.

At the same time, she noted that the VA plans to roll out a new scheduling system starting in 2020, which is expected to be installed in coordination with the agency’s implementation of a new Cerner electronic health records system, and is slated to be available for use in advance of the completion of the EHR installation at some sites.

“The implementation of enhanced technologies—such as a new scheduling system—is crucial and will provide an important foundation for improvements,” concluded Draper, adding that the single nationwide scheduling system will be a resource-based system where each provider’s schedule is visible on one screen, instead of requiring the need to toggle through multiple screens as it currently exists.

“However, this is not a panacea for addressing all of the identified problems,” she warned.

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