Feds Examine Claims of Improper EHR Use, Veteran Deaths in Ariz.

April 28, 2014 in News

Sources say that employees at the Phoenix Veterans Affairs Health Care System inaccurately used the center’s electronic health record system and created a secret waiting list to hide documentation of delays in care, which allegedly led to nearly 40 U.S. veteran deaths, EHR Intelligence reports.

Background

Current Department of Veterans Affairs rules state that patients who contact VA centers for an appointment should be seen within 30 days of their request. However, up to 1,600 patients were placed on a secret electronic waiting list at the Phoenix center, sometimes waiting months to over a year to have an appointment scheduled, EHR Intelligence reports.

About the Secret List

According to Sam Foote, a retired physician formerly at the Phoenix-based practice, employees at the center “deliberately” put an alternative system in place “to avoid … VA’s own internal rules” on scheduling patient appointments.

Foote explained that when an individual contacted the center to schedule an appointment, staff would “enter information into the computer and do a screen capture and a hard copy printout” of the information. However, the employees did “not save what was put into the computer,” erasing any record of the patient’s request. Instead, employees would place the information “onto a secret electronic waiting list” and shred the hard copy.

Foote noted that a minimum of 40 patients likely had died while waiting for appointments at the center (Bresnick, EHR Intelligence, 4/25).

Further, internal emails reviewed by CNN showed that top management officials at the center were aware of and defended the practice. In addition, Foote’s claims were confirmed by several top VA staff members (Bronstein/Griffin, CNN, 4/24).

Reaction

According to the Washington Post‘s “Federal Eye,” the VA Office of Inspector General has launched an investigation into the allegations.  In addition, Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chair Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said the committee will hold a hearing on the claims once the investigation is complete.

Meanwhile, Veterans of Foreign Wars has called for accountability and criminal prosecutions for those involved. The group said that “there should be no leniency granted to anyone with any knowledge” of the claims, including “everyone in Phoenix who knew but didn’t tell, and those in oversight positions at the VA network and VA headquarters in Washington who knew but didn’t care” (Hicks, “Federal Eye,” Washington Post, 4/27).

President Obama also responded to the allegations, saying he takes them “very seriously.” He added that he immediately directed VA Secretary Eric Shinseki to investigate the claims (AP/Sacramento Bee, 4/28).

In response to the claims, VA spokesperson Scott McRoberts in an email to CNN wrote, “The Phoenix VA Health Care System is committed to delivering the highest quality care to veterans.” He added, “We have conducted robust internal reviews since these allegations surfaced and welcome the results of the [VA] Office of Inspector General’s review,” noting that the agency “take[s] these allegations very seriously” (CNN, 4/23).

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