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Review of Alleged Patient Deaths, Patient Wait Times, and Scheduling Practices at the Phoenix VA Health Care System.
Washington, DC: VA Office of the Inspector General; August 26, 2014. Report No.14-02603-267.
A previous report by the Veterans Affairs (VA) Office of the Inspector General found that many veterans at the Phoenix VA facility endured months-long waits for primary care appointments, due in part to inappropriate manipulation of the scheduling process so that the facility could appear to meet VA quality metrics. This follow-up report examined whether these delays led to patients experiencing preventable harm and further investigated the root causes of excessive wait times and the generalizability of the problem across the VA system. The investigators concluded that no deaths or serious harm could be directly attributed to the scheduling delays; however, the report uncovered many examples of poor quality care, including delayed diagnoses of cancer, preventable readmissions, and poor care coordination. It also appears that scheduling manipulation was rife throughout the system. The report strongly attributes the "corrosive culture" of the VA and its unresponsive leadership as major factors in the system's failure to address longstanding problems with access to care. Though the VA has achieved impressive accomplishments in providing high-quality care, the scheduling scandal has caused serious damage to its reputation. A recent commentary by Dr. Kenneth Kizer (who, as Undersecretary for Health in the VA, was widely credited for reforming the VA in the 1990s) and Dr. Ashish Jha recommends several reforms the VA should implement to transform its culture and restore its standards.