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VA incorrectly recorded 38% of new patient wait times: IG report

The Department of Veterans Affairs Building. (JeffOnWire/Flickr)
March 14, 2018

An internal audit of wait time data published Tuesday found that 38 percent of new patient appointments at the VA were inaccurately recorded through the Veterans Health Administration’s electronic scheduling system.

Of the 13,900 new patient appointments, the Office of the Inspector General found that roughly 5,300 of those appointments were not properly recorded, according to the audit.

The majority of the scheduled appointments were mental health and specialty care appointments.

“The OIG estimated that about 2,500 of 13,900 appointments (18 percent) had wait times greater than 30 days. This was higher than the estimated 1,300 appointments (10 percent) that VHA’s electronic scheduling system showed were scheduled greater than 30 days. Overall, the 13,900 new patient appointments had an average wait time of about 18 days. For those 2,500 appointments greater than 30 days, the OIG estimated that veterans waited an average of 53 days,” according to the internal audit.

“Of the estimated 2,500 appointments with wait times greater than 30 days, staff entered a date other than the clinically indicated date for an estimated 1,200 appointments (47 percent), which made it appear as though the wait time was 30 days or less. Of those 1,200, the OIG estimated that staff did not identify about 970 appointments (82 percent) in which the patient should have been offered the option of receiving care in the community through Choice,” the audit continued.

The failure to properly record the wait times was due to VISN 15 (the VA Heartland Network) and facility management not making sure staff followed policy and implemented scheduling requirements.

Management also failed to “not consistently conduct scheduler audits, or did not consistently communicate the results of audits to schedulers to help improve performance,” the inspector general found.

A VHA directive states that when schedulers schedule patients, they have to use the documented clinically indicated date.

When a clinically indicated date was not contained by a provider, a scheduler was instead entering the patients’ preferred date.