VA releases its 2017 hospital ratings; facilities with one star remain largely the same

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Though one-star hospitals showed limited improvement, 64% of VA hospitals improved their baseline scores over the past year.

The Department of Veterans Affairs has released the fiscal year 2017 star ratings for its hospitals, and a number of hospitals that received just one star last year remained at the same ranking this year. 

Fourteen hospitals earned one-star ratings in this year's report, including the VA hospital in Phoenix, Arizona, where an investigation into its long wait times kicked off a national scandal in 2014. Most of those facilities were one-star hospitals in 2016 as well.

VA hospitals in Detroit and Fayetteville, North Carolina, improved from a one-star rating to a two-star rating in 2017, according to the data. Overall, 64% of hospitals showed improvement from their baseline scores in 2016, the VA said. 

The VA rates 146 of its hospitals on a scale from one to five stars based on a number of clinical factors that include access to care, quality of care, staffing turnover and efficiency.  

"Secretary [David] Shulkin has been clear that transparency is a crucial component of our efforts to reform the department," VA Press Secretary Curt Cashour told USA Today. "That’s why we’re posting these important end-of-year ratings, which document improvements at 64% of rated VA medical centers." 

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The VA recently began to release online quality data on its hospitals. It paused sending its data to Medicare's Hospital Compare site last summer, and its internal quality page was blank for much of last year. The quality of its patient satisfaction data has also come under question

But the Veterans Health Administration has made strides to improve the quality of care it provides since its wait times scandal put a nationwide spotlight on its hospitals, argues Poonam L. Alaigh, M.D., former acting under secretary for health at the VA, in a blog post for NEJM Catalyst. 

Wait times for new patients to see a primary care physician have decreased to 21.8 days as of September, according to Alaigh, and the average wait time for new patients across all specialties is 20.3 days. The VA's embrace of telehealth and a greater focus on accountability are also to be celebrated, she said. 

"In many respects, the VA is transforming from not only being the largest integrated healthcare system in America, but also into becoming America’s greatest healthcare system," Alaigh said.