VA's patient satisfaction data raise questions

VA logo

Leaders in the Department of Veterans Affairs have maintained that despite the scandal over a cover-up of care delays within the system, patients report positive experiences--however, the VA does not have metrics to compare its hospitals to outside facilities.

The department compares performance between its 150 facilities internally, according to a report in The Arizona Republic, but such figures are not disclosed. When the newspaper asked Peter Almenoff, M.D., special adviser to the VA secretary, to identify some of its patient experience surveys, he did not, and said he “can’t answer” questions about how the VA compares its care quality to non-VA hospitals.

The VA has pointed to polling from the American Consumer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) to indicate positive patient experiences that match those of non-VA hospitals. But a representative for ACSI told the Republic that it does not conduct surveys on behalf of the VA health system. It does survey overall public satisfaction with a number of federal groups, including the VA, and in 2015 it placed Veterans Affairs among its “least satisfying departments,” according to the article.

Yet the VA has said patients are satisfied with its care offerings despite reports that some veterans waited as many as 71 days for needed care. 

The department stopped supplying data on its facilities to the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ Hospital Compare website this summer, and took down its own website for such info in February, further obfuscating the numbers. Data on performance at the VA was added late last week, CMS announced, with plans to add more in December.