WASHINGTON, Aug. 22 (UPI) -- The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs' healthcare system has quietly undergone a transformation some industry observers praise as "stunning."
Ten years ago, the VA was widely seen as top-heavy with bureaucracy and "a dangerous backwater of medicine," the Washington Post said.
But now, the system outperforms Medicare and most private health plans on many quality measures, including diabetes care, managing high blood pressure and caring for heart attack patients.
"If you take a five- or six-year perspective, I think what the Veterans Health Administration has done is stunning," said Donald Berwick, president and chief executive of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement. "It's especially impressive because this is a massive system that works in a fishbowl, is under tremendous scrutiny and has constrained resources."
Since 1995, the number of patients the VA is treating has doubled, to about 5.2 million. At the same time, the department reports it has trimmed its staff by about 12,000 people, opened hundreds of outpatient clinics and shifted its focus to primary care, while cutting costs per patient by about half.