VA is committed to providing high quality, proactive, personalized, patient-driven care to Veterans and strives to improve our services. We are determined to rebuild the trust of Veterans and stakeholders and improve service delivery by focusing on Veteran outcomes.
Some Veterans are still waiting longer than they desire for their appointments, and we are working hard to try to get them the care they have earned where and when they need it.
We realize appointment wait-time data, and how it gets calculated in a system that schedules over 80 million encounters a year, can be complicated and hard to understand—so we want to take this opportunity to explain our methods. We are working in good faith to be as transparent and open as possible with our data, and the way it’s calculated.
VA began publicly posting patient access data online in June 2014. You can find that data here. Back in October, VA made clear that, as directed by Congress, it was establishing new wait-time standards that more accurately reflect whether or not a veteran has been waiting too long for an appointment. VA has done just that, and has been fully transparent about it all along. We began reporting average appointment wait times in two categories: completed and pending. Both of these measures are determined based on the Veteran’s preferred date. The preferred date method is based on a clinician’s specified date for the patient to be seen, or in the absence of a clinical recommendation, the date a patient wants to be seen.
We report this completed appointment average wait time data monthly. VA also regularly advises and updates Veterans service organizations and congressional stakeholders on our patient access data and wait time methods.
VA considers completed appointment data to be the best indicator of the Veteran’s actual wait time experience. It is the average wait time between the preferred date (the date the Veteran prefers to be seen or the date determined by the Veterans physician as clinically appropriate) and the actual date VA completed the appointment. The public data for each reporting period is based on when appointments actually occurred, and takes into account appointments that were moved up, cancelled, rebooked, missed and/or added during the month. VA considers it to represent most accurately what the Veteran experienced.
VA also reports access and wait times in terms of pending data. This is the average wait time between the preferred date and the date the Veteran’s appointment is scheduled to occur. Because this data is aggregated every two weeks, it is important to understand that it does not include same day appointments and those where the preferred date and appointment occurred within two weeks. As a result, pending data wait times can appear to be longer. But, they are not what VA considers to be the true measure of how long Veterans are actually waiting. That information is represented by the completed appointments data.
A recent media story alleged that VA may have provided misinformation about patient wait times in congressional testimony on February 10, 2015, and that wait times in facilities like the Greater Los Angeles VA Health Care System may be much longer than VA has publicly reported.
This assertion is incorrect.
VA officials responded in congressional testimony with accurate data for completed appointment wait times, based on VA’s known and publicly released methods to compute access data and wait times.
The recent media story regarding wait times in the Greater Los Angeles VA Health Care System was based on information that detailed pending new patient wait times based only on when VA schedulers created the appointment in the scheduling system. It does not reflect when the appointment actually took place and was completed. It’s inaccurate to draw the conclusion from that data that these are actual Veteran wait times for appointments.
The measure that matters most is patient satisfaction. VA is committed to providing care when and where the Veteran wants it. Our Veteran Experience Committee is working to ensure we have a clear understanding of how Veterans perceive VHA health care. We want to incorporate that knowledge into our strategic decision-making, and use it to improve the Veteran experience and access to care.
We welcome and encourage feedback and suggestions on how we can improve Veterans access to care as we continue to seek to regain the trust of those who count on VA.
Editor’s note: This blog was updated on April 8, 2015.
Dr. Carolyn M. Clancy is the Interim Under Secretary for Health for VA’s Veterans Health Administration.