VA patient scheduling system contributed to falsified wait times

A mess that's resulted in doctored behavioral health data by the Department of Veterans Affairs could be due, in part, to the use of scheduling technology developed in the early 1990s, according to an article published in Nextgov.

At a House Veterans Affairs Committee hearing this week, VA Secretary George Shinseki said that the use of a 20-year-old scheduling system by the VA contributed to long wait times for patients, particularly those seeking mental health treatment. As a result, 94,000 patients in need of mental health care were forced to wait 50 days, on average, for an appointment, according to report unveiled by the VA Office of the Inspector General late last month.

The report answers House committee charges that the VA "manipulated procedures to misrepresent patient waiting times" to show that 95 percent of patients who sought mental health care in 2011 received an appointment within two weeks. In fact, according to an audit outlined in the report, the numbers were much lower. Fewer than half of new mental health patient evaluations and 64 pecent of new patient appointments were completed within 14 days and about 88 percent of follow-up appointments were completed within 14 days.  

Shinseki told the hearing that issues with a number of VA software projects have caused scheduling problems for mental health patients, according to Nextgov. For instance, in 2009, after nine years and $127 million spent, the VA abandoned efforts to update its scheduling system.

To learn more:
- read the Nextgov article
- here's the VA OIG report (.pdf)