In some areas, VA hospital care may be better than you think

This month, the Journal of the American Medical Association published an encouraging article about the quality of medical care in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) hospital system. The analysis was possible because, for the first time, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid included VA hospital performance data on the searchable Hospital Compare website.

Having just celebrated Memorial Day, I was happy to read this study. Of course, I also have a personal interest in the quality of care at Veterans Affairs (VA) hospitals.

For one reason, I love and respect our veterans and believe that they should get the good healthcare that they deserve.

I also have some personal ties to the VA. Growing up, my Mother was in the hospital administration at the VA Medical Center in Beckley, West Virginia. Later, I was commissioned as an officer, upon receiving a U.S. Army Health Professions Scholarship Program to medical school. On a few occasions, I have received outpatient care in the VA system, in Beckley and Huntington, West Virginia, as well as in Waco and Houston, Texas.

VA hospital performance

The available data cover a period from July 2012 to March 2015.

When it comes to patient safety, the study looked at nine different Patient Safety Indicators (PSIs). VA hospitals had better outcome than non-VA hospitals for six out of nine PSIs, and no significant differences for the other PSIs.

The research also looked at mortality rates (how often patients die in the hospital) and readmission rates (how often patients have to be re-admitted to the hospital after they are discharged. In these two categories, VA hospitals scored better on all of the measured criteria.

Concerning patient experience measures, non-VA hospitals outperformed VA hospitals for nursing and physician communication, responsiveness, quietness, pain management, and whether the patient would recommend the hospital to others.

In addition, VA hospitals were beaten by non-VA hospitals on four of the nine behavioral health measurements, and outperformed the non-VA hospitals on only one measure.

Overall, I find this study encouraging.

How did the VA out-perform other hospitals in so many areas of the study?

The study authors caution that some experts question the quality of the data indicators used by Medicare and Medicaid in the quality reporting.

On the other hand, the study addressed the potential value of the VA hospital system’s unified electronic medical records system. Many veterans receive almost all of their health care within the VA system. All VA hospital records are stored on one system, which any VA hospital can instantly access.

This means that VA doctors, nurses, and other healthcare providers have access to more information about their patients’ other medical conditions, surgeries, and drug prescriptions, that non-VA hospitals would.

While I always urge patients be as thorough as possible when sharing your medical and medication history with doctors and nurses, memories fail, and it is easy for information to be left out by accident. Sometimes missing information is important enough that it would change the course of treatment.

Similarly, I recommend that patients use a single pharmacy of their choice to fill all of their prescriptions. That way, the pharmacy’s electronic records will have information on all of your prescriptions, which can trigger warnings about potential drug-drug interactions. If a patient fills one prescription at CVS, another at Walgreens, and yet another at HEB or Kroger, then these types of risks may fall through the cracks.

We are here to help

Regardless of the good news in this study, doctors and nurses at VA and other hospitals still make mistakes. If you or someone you care for has been seriously injured by medical negligence, call 281-580-8800 for a free consultation with an experienced Houston medical malpractice lawyer at Painter Law Firm.

Robert Painter
Article by

Robert Painter

Robert Painter is an award-winning medical malpractice attorney at Painter Law Firm Medical Malpractice Attorneys in Houston, Texas. He is a former hospital administrator who represents patients and family members in medical negligence and wrongful death lawsuits all over Texas. Contact him for a free consultation and strategy session by calling 281-580-8800 or emailing him right now.