Right before I got out of the Army in 1981, I was the adjutant of my artillery battalion in the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault). As such, I was the administrative officer for my unit. As anyone who has been around the military would know, the paperwork was voluminous. I was young and inexperienced and I didn’t know how to deal with it. The crusty old sergeant who ran the section taught me a trick: Throw it away. That’s right: I used to keep all the stuff that came to me through normal distribution in a special desk drawer. Every week or so I would take out the bottom third of the stack and toss it in the waste basket. Every now and then someone contacted us about our failure to respond, but there was never anything so serious that I couldn’t resolve with an ever so sincere apology.
The VA seems to have a similar management philosophy. If you end up with too many medical diagnostic procedures having been ordered, just cancel them. Toss them in the proverbial electronic trash can. That is one way of cutting a backlog, but it is not a good way – and it is not one that can be fixed with a mea culpa and promise to do better. This recent USA today article is truly disturbing.
It appears that the VA cancelled over a quarter million radiology studies. Just wiped them out. Why is not clear?
For individual patients, the consequences of not getting a needed study could be catastrophic. Worse, it’s not like these patients would necessarily know why something was cancelled. Many of us might assume that our doctor had concluded the test was not needed after all. That might even reassure us. And such “reassurance” just might lead to our early demise. Think I am being hyperbolic? A relatively short delay in getting a CT or MRI that would diagnose cancer can, in fact, be the difference between living and dying.
My management trick as a young lieutenant is something I can look back upon and laugh. The VA’s management trick is not funny at all. It’s deadly.