VA Denies Deleting Appointment Requests To Reduce Backlog

March 5, 2014 in News

On Wednesday, a Department of Veterans Affairs top health official dismissed a recent report that the agency deleted thousands of medical appointment requests from the VA’s electronic health record system to reduce a backlog, the FierceHealthIT reports (Hall, FierceHealthIT, 3/3).

Background

Last week, the Daily Caller published an article in which a former VA employee — Oliver Mitchell — said that Los Angeles VA officials in 2009 knowingly erased thousands of patient exam requests in an effort to reduce a growing backlog of requests.

Mitchell — who filed a complaint with the VA Inspector General and currently is pursuing a lawsuit for wrongful termination — said, “We just didn’t have the resources to conduct all of those exams. Basically we would get about 3,000 requests a month for [medical] exams, but in a 30-day period we only had the resources to do about 800. That rolls over to the next month and creates a backlog.” He added that VA “didn’t know how to address the issue.”

The article also cites audio recordings from a November 2008 meeting at which VA Greater Los Angeles Medical Center officials discussed canceling medical requests and deleting medical files from 2001 (Howley, Daily Caller, 2/24).

VA Disputes Claims

During a House Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing, VA Undersecretary for Health Robert Petzel called the claims “scurrilous,” saying the actions in question were part of “a carefully thought out review” and were not an “attempt to eliminate records,” the Military Times reports.

Petzel acknowledged that about 300 requests were closed because patients had either changed their address or failed to respond to multiple attempts to contact them. He noted that none of the files were destroyed and none of the patients were actively seeking care (Shane, Military Times, 2/26).

In a blog post following the hearing, Dean Norman, chief of staff for the VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System, said, “VA has established a record of safe, exceptional health care that is consistently recognized by independent reviews and organizations.” He added, “VA did not destroy patients’ personal medical records in VA’s electronic health record system, which has been in place since the 1990s” (Norman, “Vantage Point,” 2/26).

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