This article in the New York Times is both very troubling and at the same time reaffirming. The troubling part is obvious. In an effort to make its “numbers” look better, the VA hospital in Roseburg Oregon decides to tighten its criteria for admitting patients. Basically, the fewer patients you admit the fewer things that can go wrong in the hospital. Those complications and problems show up when one is analyzing the performance statistics of a hospital. Of course, those patients who are not admitted to the hospital when they needed to be still need their medical issues addressed and often end up in worse condition. Some likely die. But, even if that happens it doesn’t make the hospital look bad. Its “numbers” show improved care. Remember that old saying about lies, damned lies and statistics.
Such tactics by VA management are not surprising. In the last few years we have seen the drama associated with the wait time scandal. I could go on.
There is something in this story that cheers my cynical soul, however. Note that the VA doctors went “on the record” with the New York Times. That’s a big deal. And it involves risk on the part of these VA employees. This reminds me that for all its problems – including an extremely dysfunctional culture, at least as to its management – the VA is still full of healthcare providers who truly care about their veteran patients. Hospital administrators and senior executives need to listen to employees like the ER doctors in Roseburg. Doing so would likely produce a genuine improvement in care. Veterans deserve it.