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Study: VA hospitals outperform nearby healthcare facilities

By Tauren Dyson
Study: VA hospitals outperform nearby healthcare facilities
With 1,240 facilities, the VA runs the largest integrated health system in the United States, that includes 170 VA medical centers and 1,061 outpatient sites. More than 9 million veterans are enrolled in the VA healthcare program. Photo by Ken Wolter/Shutterstock

Dec. 12 (UPI) -- With about nine million veterans throughout its system, U.S. Veterans Administration, or VA, hospitals may deliver better medical care than other hospitals, according to a study.

The new findings are based on data from 15 data outcome measurements from the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Studies, or CMS, on VA and non-VA hospitals, including 30-day risk-adjusted mortality rates for common diseases like acute myocardial infarction, COPD, heart failure and pneumonia. Researchers also analyzed 11 additional patient safety indicators.

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Based on those factors, the study's researchers determined that VA hospitals would likely provide better medical care than local hospitals and health facilities.

"We wanted to take a closer look at local healthcare markets and specific health conditions because if you're a veteran deciding where to seek treatment what you're really concerned with are the outcomes at your local VA," Dr. William Weeks, a professor at the Dartmouth Institute, said in a press release.

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The researchers used the indicators to gauge various VA and non-VA hospitals within 306 hospital referral regions. For head-to-head comparisons, they confined the examination to 121 regions that had least one VA hospital and one non-VA hospital.

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With 1,240 facilities, the VA runs the largest integrated health system in the United States, including 170 VA medical centers and 1,061 outpatient sites. More than 9 million veterans are enrolled in the VA healthcare program.

The study doesn't account for all quality measures, and VA officials in the past have struggled to clean up the perception that the federal health care provider gives poor quality service.

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In February, to address those quality issues, the VA announced a four-point plan to step up performance at low-performing facilities that included: national accountable leadership, comprehensive analysis and identification of improvement targets, and provision of national resources for improvement and accountability for results.

"President Trump has made it clear that our Veterans deserve only the best when it comes to their healthcare, and that's why we are focusing on improving our lowest performing facilities nationwide," VA Secretary David Shulkin said in February. "We will employ tight timelines for facilities to demonstrate improvement, and if low performance persists, we will make swift changes -- including replacing facility leaders -- until we achieve the rapid improvements that Veterans and taxpayers expect from VA."

Earlier this year, the RAND Corporation also put care at the VA on par with other health providers.

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The study acknowledges that, in some markets, non-VA hospitals provided better quality but, overall, VA hospitals provide better care.

"Our findings suggest that, despite some recent negative reports, the VA generally provides truly excellent care," Weeks says. "If that is the case, outsourcing VA care to non-VA settings solely for patient convenience should be reconsidered."

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