Federal watchdog suggests increased oversight for VA's pharmacy inventory management

Veterans affairs sign
In a report released this week, the GAO pointed out that the decentralized nature of VA's organization led medical centers to take unique approaches to procure or track inventory. (JeffOnWire CC BY 2.0)

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) recommended the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Centers' pharmacy inventories could benefit from a little more oversight after years of challenges—including difficulties with accurately accounting for and updating inventory totals.

In a report released this week, the federal watchdog agency pointed out that due to the decentralized nature of the VA's organization, medical centers have taken unique approaches to procuring or tracking their inventory. 

RELATED: VA outlines plans to address Government Accountability Office's concerns about its health system

This has led to some inefficiencies. For instance, the GAO found the VA is missing opportunities to evaluate the effectiveness of these efforts, as well as share best practices and standardize them across VA as appropriate. As well, pharmacy benefit managers have said the lack of a VA-wide pharmacy inventory management system limits their ability to assist in inventory management.

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The GAO ultimately recommended the VA designate a focal point for overseeing its medical center's pharmacy inventory management efforts systemwide. The VA concurred in principle with the recommendation. 

This follows broader efforts to identify oversight and accountability for the VA health system, which has been under a microscope since 2014 when news broke that patients in the system faced unacceptably long wait times for care.

RELATED: VA’s pharmacy IT system is flawed; officials say an EHR upgrade could be the solution

But it has been a challenge to create new oversight and accountability structures as the health system seeks to make changes, such as its Electronic Health Record Modernization (EHRM) program. In December, VA announced it would contract with EHR giant Cerner to overhaul its legacy VistA EHR.

Last year, the GAO cited problems with the health system’s pharmacy IT platform, saying it was plagued with inefficiencies, especially when communicating with private sector providers—a problem it largely blamed on VistA. Pharmacists aren’t always able to view patient records from the Department of Defense, making it difficult to check new prescriptions with current medications, according to a report from the GAO.

As well, certain hospitals, such as the Washington, D.C., VA Medical Center, struggled with accurate inventory management of their broader supply chain, including supplies used in surgery and at the bedside.

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