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Study: VA performs as well or better than other health systems

Even in cases where improvement is needed, researchers say none of the reports reviewed in the study reflected consistently poor care at the VA.

By Stephen Feller
Study: VA performs as well or better than other health systems
Researchers found for many areas of care VA medical facilities, such as the Roudebush VA Medical Center, pictured, performs as well or better than non-VA medical facilities. Photo by Jonathan Weiss/Shutterstock

SANTA MONICA, Calif., July 18 (UPI) -- The U.S. Veterans Affairs health system performs as well as, if not better than, other healthcare systems, according to a review of medical records.

Researchers at the RAND Corporation found the VA system is comparable in safety and efficacy to care otherwise available, despite often dealing with patients who are more sick or have a wider range of conditions.

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There were some areas without enough previous research to make a comparison, such as in timeliness, efficiency and patient-centeredness.

There also were some areas, such as surgical complications and availability of services, where results were less favorable, though the researchers say these reports were not consistently bad.

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"Comparing the VA to other health care settings can be difficult because the VA has a patient population that is different from most other settings, with patients who may be sicker," Dr. Courtney Gidengil, a physician scientist at RAND, said in a press release. "But it's important to do more of this work in the future so we can better understand the quality of care the VA provides."

For the study, published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, researchers reviewed 69 studies conducted between 2005 and 2015 covering safety, efficacy, efficiency, patient-centeredness, equity and timeliness.

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In terms of safety, the VA performed as well or better in 22 of 34 studies, though nine showed worse performance and three were a mixed bag.

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Some studies found higher surgical mortality under VA care than non-VA care, though mortality rates have gone down over time more quickly at the VA than non-VA facilities. Like morbidity and complications from care, mortality was linked to type of procedure or condition being treated, making some results vary widely.

Outpatient care and screening was found generally to be better under care of the VA, with check-ups and tests for most conditions receiving higher marks than with non-VA healthcare.

"The available data indicate overall comparable health care quality in VA facilities compared to non-VA facilities with regard to safety and effectiveness," researchers wrote in the study. "Rates of complications and availability of services had the least favorable results, but these results were mixed rather than consistently poor. The overall number of studies comparing VA and non-VA care was small, and study quality varied. More studies that examine and compare the quality of VA care with respect to timeliness, equity, efficiency, and patient-centeredness are needed to better assess VA facilities' performance on these quality dimensions."

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