How many VA doctors are there? No one really knows, GAO report says

How many doctors are working in Veterans Administration medical centers across the country? It’s anyone’s guess, a new government report found.

The Veterans Health Administration can’t be sure it has enough doctors to keep with up with veterans’ growing health needs, because it has no way to track contract physicians and physician trainees working in its hospitals, according to a U.S. Government Accountability Office report released Thursday.

The federal agency knows it employs more than 11,000 doctors, but it doesn’t know how many contract physicians and physician trainees, such as medical residents, that it uses to meet staffing needs, the report said.

When it comes to tracking doctors, the agency is unable to accurately count the total number who provide care in its VA medical centers across the country, the GAO report said. It knows how many physicians it employs and the number who provide services on a fee-basis, which is about 2,800. Despite the fact that five of the six medical centers the GAO reviewed use contract doctors and physician trainees to meet staffing needs, the VA doesn’t have information on the extent to which they are used in its medical centers nationwide, the GAO said.

Better data and evaluation of its programs could help improve physician staffing, recruitment and retention efforts, the report found.

The GAO made five recommendations based on its study, including that the VA develop a process to track all of the physicians working in its system, provide guidance on measuring physician productivity and evaluate its current physician recruitment and retention strategies to determine if they are effective. The VA agreed with those recommendations, except for saying its workforce assessment tools are sufficient.

The VA uses multiple strategies to hire and retain doctors, including financial incentives and a physician training program, but has not evaluated how those strategies are working, the GAO said.

The report details just the latest shortcomings at the VA. The hospitals and affiliated healthcare facilities run by the Department of Veterans Affairs are rife with mismanagement and neglect, prompting more employees to blow the whistle on substandard care or manipulation of patient data.