VA hospitals outperform non-VA hospitals on patient outcome measures

Though the Veterans Affairs health system has been under fire for various reasons, a look at quality data shows VA hospitals actually outperform non-VA hospitals in outcomes, readmission and mortality measures, according to a research letter in JAMA Internal Medicine.

However, the data suggest VA hospitals need to work on patient experience and behavioral health.

Researchers examined hospital-level quality and patient experience data on 129 VA hospitals and 4,010 non-VA hospitals on CMS' Hospital Compare website.

They found VA hospitals had better outcomes than non-VA hospitals for six of the nine patient safety indicators and found no significant difference on the three other indicators. VA hospitals also had better mortality and readmission rates than their non-VA counterparts.

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When it came to patient experience measures, however, non-VA hospitals outperformed VA hospitals on nursing and physician communication, responsiveness, quietness, pain management and if the patient would recommend the hospital.

Non-VA hospitals also outperformed VA hospitals on most of the behavioral health metrics examined by the researchers.

The research letter authors speculate that VA hospitals outperform non-VA hospitals on outcome measures because the VA invested time and effort into quality improvement and care coordination in the last 30 years and the system has a leg-up on care coordination because patients usually receive all of their care within the one system.

"While concerns remain about the validity of some of the measures used in current public reporting of health quality, the available data suggests that VA hospitals have a similar or more favorable quality compared with non-VA hospitals," the authors conclude. "On the other hand, these results suggest that VA hospitals should focus on improving certain aspects of patient experience and behavioral health."

The VA recently launched a tool that allows veterans to compare patient wait time and quality data of VA hospitals with non-VA hospitals in the area in an attempt to be more transparent with its patients and empower veterans to choose the best care option for themselves.

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