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article imageNew VA hospital report reveals longstanding bureaucratic hurdles

By Nate Smith     Nov 3, 2014 in Politics
The latest investigation into bureaucratic hangups at the Department of Veterans Affairs reveals ongoing, long-standing issues with the agency.
Outdated scheduling practices and technology, as well as understaffed VA centers are among the findings of a report from the Northern Virginia Technology Council, issued with the intention of identifying, "improvement opportunities and recommend actions that will enable VA leaders to restore America’s confidence in the enduring integrity of VA while servicing the healthcare needs of those who have selflessly served our country."
This most recent initiative was the result of the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act, legislation passed earlier this year that called for, among other things, a technology task force to review scheduling practices at the VA.
The report was compiled at no expense to American taxpayers. Sen. Mark Warner, D-Virginia, enlisted NVTC to perform the work.
For six-weeks between Sept. 15 and Oct. 29, researchers visited VA Medical Centers in Richmond and Hampton, Virginia, documenting scheduling operations and interviewing staff about problems they encounter working at the VA and their ideas for how military veterans may be better served through changes to existing scheduling practices.
Related scheduling Information provided by the VA was also reviewed.
"NVTC’s Team confirmed what VA already acknowledges – that the current scheduling processes do not adequately meet the needs of Veterans, healthcare providers or scheduling staff members," reads a portion of the report.
"Clinic grids are inflexible, productivity cannot be accurately measured, not enough scheduling resources (staff, rooms, equipment, etc.) are available, and linkages among scheduled appointments and ancillary appointments (e.g., lab and radiology) are not established.
In the latter instance, the absence of such links results in appointment cancellations and re-bookings, additional travel costs, and higher levels of Veterans’ dissatisfaction."
More from the report:
This situation has resulted in a counterproductive and error-prone working environment that has frustrated staff members for years, thus fueling a persistent staff-retention problem – the net effect of which has contributed in no small part, it appears, to the gradual erosion of public confidence in the Department’s ability to provide Veterans with timely access to needed healthcare services.
The report concludes with 11 proposals for reform. They are:
* Aggressively redesign the human resources and recruitment process;
* Prioritize efforts to recruit, retain, and train clerical staff;
* Develop a comprehensive human capital strategy that addresses impending healthcare provider shortages based on projected needs;
* Create a stronger financial incentive structure;
* Accelerate steps to improve the agility, usability and flexibility of scheduling-enabling technologies that also facilitate performance measurement and reporting functions;
* Take aggressive steps to use fixed infrastructure more efficiently;
* Evaluate the efficiency and patient support gained by centralizing the phone calling functions in facility-based call centers with extended hours of operation;
* Invest in more current and usable telephone systems and provide adequate space for call center functions;
* Take aggressive measures to alleviate parking congestion, which impacts timeliness of care.
* Engage frontline staff in the process of change; and
* Embrace a system-wide approach to process redesign.
The report has been forward for review by Robert A. McDonald, who was appointed to lead the VA department earlier in July.
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