VA Rocky Mountain Network
Behind Friendly Lines: Access & Transparency
You spoke. We listened.
Last month VA launched an improved Access to Care website, www.accesstocare.va.gov, which reflects the very concerns veterans voiced about what they wanted to see regarding access to their VA health care. Veterans now have a more user-friendly, streamlined information tool to make it easier to plan their VA health care visits and it offers new search tools and information.
I know what you’re probably thinking right now: “Sure! Of course, VA made it easier for me to ‘access my information’ and ‘manage my health care’ (sarcasm – and air quotes).”
But it’s true. Based on focus groups asking what they wanted, veterans can now view expanded data about mental health care services and specialties. They can compare data across VA hospitals. They are even able to review VA and regional community provider performance on key clinical quality and experience metrics – and yes, they can still view average wait times and patient satisfaction scores.
Do other health care systems in Colorado – or around the country – publish their average wait times? Do they regularly post and update their patient satisfaction scores? Allow me to answer using one of the cards from the Exploding Kittens game: Nope. (Feed your opponent a Nope Sandwich with extra Nopesauce).
Access to medical care is difficult to measure in the health care realm. Does VA have better wait times than, say, UCHealth? Are VA customer satisfaction scores higher than HealthONE? How does VA compare to Centura, Swedish, or other top-notch providers?
I can’t speak for them; however, I can definitively say VA is committed to transparency and working hard to offer the best care and best outcomes for our veteran-patients. VA’s trust scores are now above 90%, 6 points higher than they were in 2018. National average wait times are below 15 days, more than 1 day lower than last year!
Let’s look at the specifics and let the data speak for itself. On the Access to Care website, I clicked on “Access Times at Individual Facilities” and then typed in “Colorado Springs” for location, “Primary Care” for clinic type, “Established Patients” for visit type, and a radius of 50 miles.
The results: there’s an average wait time of six days at the Lindstrom VA Clinic on Centennial Blvd., three days wait time at the Union Blvd. VA Clinic, or seven days at the Dunn VA Clinic in Pueblo.
I then wanted to see the “MISSION Act Quality Standards” which provides key clinical quality and experience measurements. I scrolled down to Colorado and clicked on “Aurora, CO Health Care System.” Across 17 metrics, VA is the same or better than community providers, using nationally recognized health care data sets. If you’re on the Western Slope and pull the same metrics, you’ll see VA’s health care system is worse than community providers in one of the rating metrics, but better or the same in the other categories.
Veterans, don’t take my word for it, check it out for yourselves. Publishing wait times and customer experience scores is risky business (which is why private health care systems are NOT doing it) because it exposes the organization to what the data reveals.
And that’s exactly what veterans deserve.
Publishing wait times absolutely improves the patient experience and it gives VA the opportunity to continually improve. Anytime there is a benchmark or a standard or a rating, most of us are inclined to reach or exceed that standard. There are benchmarks set by Consumer Reports for cars and appliances. There’s a standard to make the playoffs in Major League Baseball (unfortunately for the Rockies, that’s not going so well). There’s a rating for the most popular dog breed by the American Kennel Club (Labrador Retrievers are No. 1 – for more than 30 years).
VA may not always meet the standard, but we’re committed to being transparent about that fact, while constantly working to improve and offer the very best outcomes for our veteran community.
Thanks for allowing me to walk alongside you behind friendly lines.