- The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is improving patient access to care, primary care delivery, and customer service through its care transformation program, MyVA.
Earlier this week, VA’s Secretary Robert A. McDonald detailed the path for MyVA, explaining how the agency will use the program to boost patient access to care and patient satisfaction through a multi-pronged strategy.
Through their agency-wide initiative, the VA will work to boost patient and provider experiences, improve internal support services, establish a culture of continuous improvement, and expand strategic partnerships. Overall, MyVA is a transformational project aimed at pushing the agency into modern approaches to healthcare by implementing patient-centered strategies.
“MyVA is our framework for modernizing our culture, processes, and capabilities – combining functions, simplifying operations, providing Veterans a world-class, customer-focused, Veteran-centered enterprise,” McDonald explained to VA’s Commission on Care.
“I know transformational change is not easy but it is our commitment to the Veterans we serve in order to bring them the customer service and the care and benefits they have earned.”
VA’s Deputy Secretary Sloan D. Gibson joined McDonald in his presentation to the Commission on Care, and acknowledged that although major transformations such as the one VA is presently undergoing are often difficult, the agency has stepped up to the challenge and is making vast improvements to patient access to care.
“We have challenges in VA and we own them, but the transformation that Bob talked about is well underway and already delivering measurable results for improving access to care and improving the Veterans experience,” Gibson said.
In recent months, VA has made notable improvements in its patient satisfaction and patient access to care. In a recent nationwide project, VA workers identified 3,300 patients who had been on the electronic wait list for over seven days. After a day’s work, VA gave 80 percent of those patients an appointment scheduled within the week, and 83 percent an appointment scheduled within the following two and a half weeks.
Boosting this level of patient access to care has already influenced patient satisfaction levels and overall clinical outcomes.
Real-time customer-satisfaction feedback collected in our medical centers through VetLink—our kiosk-based software—tells us [the VA] that about 90 percent of Veterans are either “completely satisfied” or “satisfied” getting the appointment when they wanted it.
Annual clinical work has increased among VA providers seeing Veterans by almost 18 percent in the last three years; 20 percent when VA and non-VA providers are calculated together.
With changes already underway to leverage our scale and build a world class end-to-end supply chain, we have already redirected $24 million back towards activities providing better Veteran outcomes.
The pair also noted several healthcare technologies that improve patient access to care and the care VA physicians provide, including an app that helps patients schedule their doctor’s appointments and a program that integrates the EHR data from VA, Department of Defense, and community healthcare providers.
This presentation to the VA Commission on Care comes after the agency’s undersecretary, David J. Schulkin, announced at a journalist conference that the agency is making significant strides in improving patient access to care.
“We are working to rebuild the trust of the American public and more importantly the trust of the Veterans whom we are proud to serve,” said Shulkin. “We are taking action and are seeing the results. We are serious about our work to improve access to health care for our nation’s Veterans. We want them to know that this is a new VA.”
However, in a March GAO report, investigators found that VA’s efforts to provide adequate primary care to Veterans were lacking. According to the report, not all VA patients were able to access to primary care, and those that were had variable wait times to get an appointment.
Sixty of the 180 newly enrolled veterans in GAO’s review had not been seen by providers at the time of the review; nearly half were unable to access primary care because VA medical center staff did not schedule appointments for these veterans in accordance with VHA policy. The 120 newly enrolled veterans in GAO’s review who were seen by providers waited from 22 days to 71 days from their requests that VA contact them to schedule appointments to when they were seen, according to GAO’s analysis.
An inadequate scheduling policy has caused much of these scheduling issues. Current scheduling protocol and scheduling errors inaccurately measure how long patients wait for a primary care appointment, hampering the process for developing better procedures for improving patient access to care.
GAO provided three suggestions for VA, including that VA respond to Veterans requesting primary care visits in a timely manner, that VA accurately monitor Veteran wait times for primary care appointments, and that VA update its scheduling policy. VA reportedly agreed with all of those suggestions, and detailed several action plans for carrying them out.