VA centers cleared of inappropriate imaging allegations

An investigation by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General into medical imaging services in two northern Florida medical centers has cleared the centers of several whistleblower allegations.

The investigation by OIG was undertaken as a result of complaints that patients at the two centers--one in Gainesville and the other in Lake City--received inappropriate treatment that resulted in death or harm and that there was poor oversight of the diagnostic imaging service.

According to the report, the complaints included allegations that:

  • Patients with documented contrast media allergies received contrast for CT exams resulting in patient deaths
  • Radiologists failed to review CT exam orders
  • The system lacked policies regarding contrast administration
  • The system lacked radiologist support for CT technologists after hours
  • The CT scanner at the Lake City campus was beyond its useful life and broke down weekly
  • While a CT staff member was absent for a protracted period, the system did not replace or maintain staff levels using alternative measures, resulting in a backlog of patients

OIG conducted site visits July 15-19 of last year. The report stated that there were instances in which some patients with documented contrast allergies received contrast for CT exams, but that no deaths occurred as a result of contrast administration.

In addition, OIG found that the VA staff did screen for contrast allergies, and in cases when the use of contrast was unavoidable in patients with documented contrast allergies, the system used an approved pretreatment procedure.

OIG also substantiated that there was reduced staffing for a protracted period of time in the CT department, but that the reduced staff didn't result in a backlog of patients.

Many other allegations were unsubstantiated. For example, regarding the allegation that the CT scanner was beyond its useful life and broke down continuously, OIG found that the scanner was within its predicted life expectancy of 10 years, and had uptime rates of 98 to 99 percent.

OIG concluded its report by making no recommendations.

As reported last fall, delayed care and waits have led to veteran deaths, specifically at Williams Jennings Bryan Dorn Veterans Medical Center in Columbia, S.C., a trend the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has done little to address, according to CNN. The report claims that at least six veterans waited months for routine gastrointestinal procedures, such as colonoscopies or endoscopies, and died of cancer before clinicians could detect it. 

An investigation into government documents showed 52 of the 280 gastrointestinal cancer patients were "associated with a delay in diagnosis and treatment." A VA internal report stated that in July 2011, a hospital physician sent a warning to administrators that there was a patient backlog of 2,500, a number that jumped to 3,800 patients by December.

To learn more:
- see the report from the OIG (.pdf)