White House Report Highlights VA’s ‘Cumbersome, Outdated’ Tech

June 30, 2014 in News

The Department of Veteran Affairs has “cumbersome and outdated” appointment scheduling technology that partially has contributed to a delay in care among veterans, according to a report prepared by White House officials, Los Angeles Times‘ “Nation Now” reports (Simon, “Nation Now,” Los Angeles Times, 6/27).

Background

The report follows the release of a federal audit, which revealed that scheduling staff at some Veterans Affairs clinics across the country used methods other than the department’s official electronic wait list or health IT system to make it appear that veterans had shorter wait times for care.

The audit also confirmed claims that a VA goal of scheduling patients for appointments within 14 days created incentive for administrators to manipulate data to ensure long wait times would not reflect poorly on their job performance.

In April Sam Foote, a retired physician at the Phoenix VA Health Care System, claimed that employees at the practice inaccurately used the center’s electronic health record system and “deliberately” created a secret waiting list to hide documentation of delays in care. According to Foote, 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.

The waitlist scandal resulted in the resignation of Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki (iHealthBeat, 6/10).

The Department of Justice also is working with investigators at the VA Inspector General’s Office to determine whether criminal charges should be filed against VA officials (Zoroya, USA Today, 6/28).

Report Details

The report, which White House Deputy Chief of Staff Rob Nabors and acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson delivered to President Obama on Friday, determined VA’s scheduling technology to be “cumbersome and outdated” (“Nation Now,” Los Angeles Times, 6/27).

However, it said a shortage of medical staff was more to blame for long veteran wait times, the Washington Post‘s “Federal Eye” reports (Hicks, “Federal Eye,” Washington Post, 6/27).

The report also identified “significant and chronic systemic failures” that are becoming worse under poor management and a lack of accountability.

The report called VA’s goal of scheduling veteran appointments within 14 days an “arbitrary, ill-defined and misunderstood” policy that likely “incentivized inappropriate actions” (“Nation Now,” Los Angeles Times, 6/27).

Obama To Nominate Former PG Exec as VA Secretary

In related news, President Obama on Monday is expected to nominate former Procter Gamble CEO and West Point graduate Robert McDonald as the next VA secretary, the New York Times reports.

According to the Times, the Obama administration since May — when Shinseki resigned — has been seeking a replacement with at least one of three key qualities. For example, the potential candidate should have:

  • Extensive management experience;
  • A military background similar to Shinseki’s; or
  • Substantial experience running a large hospital system.

Obama’s selection of McDonald suggests that he “views the problems at the department as primarily a management concern,” according to the Times.

In a statement issued Sunday, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) praised Obama’s selection, calling McDonald “a good man, a veteran and a strong leader.” However, he argued that McDonald would only succeed if Obama “first commits to doing whatever it takes to give our veterans the world-class health care system they deserve by articulating a vision for sweeping reform” (Shear/Oppel, New York Times, 6/29).

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