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University of Pittsburgh Study Finds Improved Access to Care for Veterans

PITTSBURGH, Dec. 28, 2016 – A recent study conducted by the University of Pittsburgh Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of Business and the University of Pittsburgh School of Pharmacy, Program Evaluation and Research Unit (PERU), in conjunction with the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) found that a new program to improve veterans’ access to care initiated over the past year has been effective.
 
MyVA Access, implemented in 2015, established sustainable solutions within VA facilities to improve veterans’ access to care.
 
“The VA has done a remarkable job of improving veteran care access across the system, especially for urgent care, in a relatively short period of time,” said Janice L. Pringle, Ph.D., co-principal investigator, Pitt School of Pharmacy.
 
The project evaluated the outcomes associated with the first year of the VA’s MyVA Access program as compared to those of the prior year. According to Jerrold H. May, Ph.D., co-principal investigator, Pitt’s Katz Graduate School of Business, two fundamental questions were examined: Has veterans’ access to urgent care improved as intended, and is the strategy of prioritizing urgent care appointments the better course of action. The study determined that the answer to both questions was a definite yes.
 
The study collected data from 140 VA health facilities across the country. Drawing on the responses to surveys that patients completed after receiving medical care and on information from VA operational data, a comparison of access-to-care measures was studied for roughly a one-year time period.
 
“According to the data, access-related patient satisfaction improved significantly, and complaints decreased significantly,” May said. “Additionally, the wait time for urgent care-related consultations was improved at 74 percent of all VA facilities.”
 
The study determined the following successes in the MyVA Access program:
 
  • The percentage of ‘always’ and ‘usually’ responses to a survey question related to a veteran’s ability to obtain an urgent appointment as soon as needed improved significantly.
  • Veteran-perceived access improved overall.
  • New patient wait times for appointments improved significantly in both mental health and specialty care clinics.
  • The number of veterans per thousand who filed access-related complaints improved significantly in the period following the MyVA Access initiative.
  • Improvements in access measures were generally consistent across facilities with differing baseline performance level designations.
In addition, researchers made several recommendations for how the VA can better institutionalize the MyVA Access program, including engaging staff in communication programs; diffusing strong leadership principles throughout all levels of facility leadership; developing a simple performance measurement system; developing highly specified implementation plans; using effective methods for hiring staff; and implementing training programs that provide just-in-time knowledge and skills to staff.
 
“Improving any health care system’s patient access and organizational health is a difficult task,” said Pringle. “The VA’s continued commitment to improving access and organizational health is remarkable and will only contribute to it becoming one of the leading health care systems in the United States.”

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