Interim Report: Review of VHA's Patient Wait Times, Scheduling Practices, and Alleged Patient Deaths at the Phoenix Health Care System.
The Veterans Health Administration has earned widespread praise for improving quality of care during the past decade, but this report by the Veterans Affairs (VA) Office of the Inspector General exposes serious problems within the Phoenix VA facility, which may be representative of system-wide issues with access to care. Even though the facility officially reported average wait times of only 24 days, the investigation found that veterans typically waited nearly 4 months for a new primary care appointment. This discrepancy was due to systematic manipulation of the scheduling system—more than 1700 patients had requested an appointment but were never enrolled on the waiting list for scheduling. Because wait times for primary care appointments were a VA quality metric, clinics likely resorted to gaming the system to appear to achieve their targets. The report indicates that evidence of inappropriate manipulation of the scheduling process has been found at many other VA facilities as well. The study did not formally address whether these delays in care directly led to deaths or preventable harm. An investigation of specific cases of deaths among patients who were waiting for appointments is ongoing and is expected to be released later this year.