Report: VA care as good or better than other U.S. hospitals

Overall care quality in U.S. Veterans Health Administration facilities is similar to or better than care provided in other U.S. health systems, according to a study published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.

The researchers looked at a number of commonly used measures of care quality and found VA hospitals generally provided better quality care than non-VA hospitals. The researchers also found the VA's outpatient services were better quality when compared to commercial HMOs, Medicaid HMOs and Medicare HMOs. 

The researchers compared care quality provided by the VA in outpatient and inpatient settings by using data from national surveys during 2013 and 2014, including the Healthcare Effectiveness Data and Information Set and the Survey of Healthcare Experiences of Veterans.

For each of the VA's 135 facilities, the researchers pinpointed three non-VA hospitals that had similar characteristics, including whether the facility is in a rural or urban area. They then compared the performance of VA healthcare facilities to similar non-VA facilities, as well as health systems overall.

The study revealed VA hospitals the same or significantly better than non-VA hospitals on all six measures of inpatient safety, all three measures of inpatient mortality and 12 measures of the effectiveness of inpatient care. However, the study found VA hospitals performed significantly worse on three readmission measures and two effectiveness measures.

"Consistent with previous studies, our analysis found that the VA healthcare system generally provides care that is higher in quality than what is offered elsewhere in communities across the nation," said lead study author Rebecca Anhang Price, PhD, in a press release.

Although the study revealed a wide variation in care quality provided across VA hospitals, the variation was smaller than what researchers observed among non-VA health providers. The variation may be caused in part by certain VA facilities caring for patients who are generally older and sicker than patients at other facilities.

However, the researchers said the findings indicate a need for the VA to implement targeted quality improvement efforts to ensure veterans receive uniformly high-quality care across facilities. "The variation among VA health facilities shows that veterans in some areas are not receiving the same high quality care that other VA facilities are able to provide," said study co-author Carrie Farmer, PhD.

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