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“Zeroed Out” Patient Wait Times

A report published on March 8, 2016 by the VA Office of Inspector General revealed that schedulers at the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center in Houston, Texas, “zeroed out” patient wait times. The investigation was sparked by a confidential complainant and was substantiated by the OIG’s interview of 25 current and former employees with direct scheduling responsibilities and supervision over employees with scheduling responsibilities. Schedulers in the Primary Care Service Line, Mental Health Care Line, and Dental Service of the Houston VAMC were found to have altered the patient wait times. The investigation revealed that clerks had been trained to schedule by using patients’ actual appointment dates as their desired dates, thereby “zeroing out” the wait time to make it appear that the patients were being seen within the standard wait-time. The practices of manipulating performance data to meet the 14-day standard occurred between 2010 and 2014 at the Houston VAMC. The practice was used across the three service lines. During the investigation, a Mental Health Care manager interviewed during the investigation stated that, in retrospect, her service line’s statistics regarding wait time did not seem realistic and were not representative of what was actually happening. This investigation and report is representative of the problems the VA medical centers have had delivering services to veterans across the country. Manipulating data to fit the ideal performance criteria is only effective in covering up the real issue – that our veterans are not receiving timely, appropriate medical care.


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