December 5, 2008 – A new report says Veterans Centers run by the Department of Veterans Affairs could have seen more patients in the past year if they did a better job scheduling and rescheduling visits.
About 4.9 million appointments were not kept in fiscal 2008, with each missed visit costing the VA about $182, according to the report by the VA inspector general, released Dec. 4.
That means VA is both losing money and failing to treat veterans as quickly as possible by keeping a flawed system for making appointments, and by not maintaining waiting lists to fill appointments canceled at the last minute.
A medical facility sometimes may leave an appointment open intentionally because visits can run long, and facilities worry about being able to see everyone.
But the report also found about 3.1 million incidents in fiscal 2008 when patients did not show up for appointments, and 1.8 million appointments that were canceled by the patient and not refilled with other patients.
Having 4.9 million unfilled appointments does not mean VA potentially could see 4.9 million more people, however. Most were seen later, and some of those were multiple appointments for the same person.
The biggest benefit from better scheduling is that veterans would be seen faster, the report says.
Sen. Daniel Akaka, the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee chairman who requested the reports, said something needs to be done.
“The fact that we continue to see a trend of flawed or inefficient scheduling practices being used by VA is troubling,” he said. “I have led the fight to provide full funding for VA, but VA must be as efficient and accurate as possible in order to avoid waste and mismanagement, especially in these times of economic difficulty.”
The VA could save $76 million a year if did better at scheduling and rescheduling appointments, Akaka said.
In a written response to the report, VA health officials vowed to develop a revised scheduling system that will include a waiting list for patients ready to fill openings left by others who have canceled appointments.
A second IG report also released Dec. 4 continues to monitor problems with inaccurate records of appointments in the North Florida-South Georgia Veterans Health System, where statistics about how long veterans must wait for an initial appointment are skewed because some patients are left out.