Retired VA doc alleges imaging-related delays due to appointment manipulation

A retired Department of Veterans Affairs doctor has alleged that a VA Medical Center in Texas made a practice of asking doctors to change the requested date for imaging exams in order to hide backlogs for these tests.

In a letter written by Joseph L. Spann to the VA Inspector General and published by the Austin American-Statesman, Spann charges that he has seen the manipulation of medical appointments--much like those reported recently at a VA Center in Phoenix--at the VA outpatient clinic and Central Texas VA hospital in Temple.

The chief of radiology, according to Spann, would ask ordering physicians to move scheduled procedures out beyond 30 days so that it would appear that the procedure had been performed within a closer time of the written order.

According to Spann, these requests would vary depending on radiology workload, backlog and staffing.

"The primary care doctors at the Austin VA clinic would try to be 'team players' in the optimistic hope that we were creating open slots in the radiology schedule for our patients requiring stat or urgent procedures," he wrote. "Unfortunately, when those occasions arouse it would take multiple phone calls to Temple to get the tests done in a timely manner. Even so, many times patients would have to wait weeks before their urgent radiology procedure could be done.

He added that while he never witnessed a patient death due to the schedule manipulation, "several" cancer patients had treatments--including possible surgery or chemotherapy--delayed. 

The charges by Spann are just the latest involving wait time data manipulation to hit VA medical facilities across the country. For example, whistleblowers at Edward Hines Jr. VA Hospital in the Chicago area have claimed that offices there kept secret waitlists to collect bonuses for on-time treatment.

Secretary Of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki is expected to testify on Capitol Hill about the issue this week. Shinseki, on Friday, accepted the resignation of Robert Petzel, the VA's under secretary for health.

To learn more:
- see the letter published in the Austin American-Statesman
- read the statement announcing Petzel's resignation

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