Straight, No Chaser In The News: The Performance of the VA Healthcare System


Let the buyer beware. In the United States’ hyperpolitical environment, a crisis is only regarded as an opportunity to further one’s political objectives. The latest application of this apparent philosophical bend involves healthcare services provided by the U.S. Veterans Administration (VA). Many of you have heard about the problems existing within the VA’s scheduling system for healthcare services. As a result of these problems, which have resulted in some legitimate problems for some veterans, calls are being made to privatize the entirety of the healthcare provided by the VA.

Ok. Take a deep breath, and let’s deal with some facts.

Medicine is not an “if something bad happens” industry. It’s a “when something bad happens” industry. Mistakes occur everyday. Think about your experiences within the healthcare system. Think about the inability of your doctor’s office to see you at your scheduled time. If you’ve visited a county hospital emergency room, you’re so accustomed to delays that perhaps you’ve packed a lunch before making the trip. We’ve all complained that no one seems to listens to our actual complaint. Of course, missed diagnoses, the need for second opinions and medical malpractice all are real things.

The issue isn’t if or when, it’s with what frequency these situations occur, particularly compared to others. As much as some segments of society enjoy criticizing all things government, when it comes to government-run healthcare (i.e., Medicare, Medicaid and the VA system), there have been certain truisms regarding it that have been consistent.

  • The VA system and services provided under Medicare have historically had the highest levels of patient satisfaction among all aspects of healthcare.
  • The government-run aspects of healthcare have been less costly than commercial run aspects of healthcare.


Now let’s look at some objective data and notice that VA facilities are quite sparsely distributed, particularly relative to the accessibility of other hospitals all over the country. This data comes from the 2013 independent American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI).

  • For inpatients (i.e., those hospitalized) recently discharged from a VA acute medical center, they rated satisfaction at a very impressive score of 84 on a 0-100 scale.  This is four points higher than the industry average.
  • The VA outpatient score (i.e., those not hospitalized, such as ER patients) of 82 is within one point of the industry average.
  • Service remains the greatest strength for the VA with a score of 91.
  • Medical providers and appointment personnel remain highly courteous with scores of 92 and 91, respectively.
  • Medical providers are also rated as highly professional, with a score of 90.
  • The 2013 index of Veterans’ Loyalty to VA-provided healthcare remains at 93. 
  • Respondents remain very willing to say positive things about inpatient care and outpatient care with scores of 91 and 92, respectively.
  • Respondents are highly willing to use a VA medical center the next time they need inpatient care (96) or outpatient care (95). These numbers are the ultimate measure of satisfaction and are incredibly high.

The ACSI results also suggest several areas for improvement at VA, including the following:

  • The clarity of information provided by healthcare providers, particularly how test results are explained to patients, was identified as an opportunity for improvement.
  • The accessibility of VA medical centers are typically only located in medical metropolitan areas and usually require travel.

Show me a private hospital, much less an entire hospital system with these satisfaction scores, and I’ll show you one that is receiving near universal acclaim. Why wouldn’t that be the same for the VA? These areas of improvement are just that and are not calls for a system overhaul, particularly one regressing to an inferiorly performing and less cost effective system. Perhaps the conversation should be about how to achieve the VA’s level of success across the rest of the American healthcare system. Let the buyer beware.
Straight, No Chaser is all about providing facts and objectifying information for you. Try to adopt this posture for the healthcare decisions you make for your family. It’s your best course of action.
If you ever need help finding such information, your personalized healthcare consultants at 844-SMA-TALK and are always available for you.
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