More than 15 percent of schedulers at the Charlie Norwood Veterans Affairs Medical Center said in a nationwide audit of VA scheduling practices that they felt instructed to enter a desired appointment date other than the one patients requested.
The findings, part of a briefing provided to Congress this week, shows that only 21 percent of schedulers reported correct usage of the facility’s waiting list, a success rate that is tied – with the Carl Vinson VA Medical Center in Dublin, Ga. – for lowest among the eight hospitals in the VA’s Southeast Network.
The survey results come as the VA continues to provide twice-monthly updates of how many veterans and newly enrolled patients still wait for initial appointments systemwide.
The latest data released Thursday showed that the Augusta VA has scheduled all of the 133 patients who have gone a decade without requested appointments and that the number of veterans who waited at least 90 days for an appointment has decreased from 63 to 36 in two weeks.
“Director Robert Hamilton and the leadership team here in Augusta are fully engaged in the process to follow through and assure no employee has a doubt about what we expect and Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson demands,” hospital spokesman Pete Scovill said in an e-mail. Scovill said that Hamilton has personally inspected more than 25 clinics at the Augusta VA and that his engagement with staffers has included reinforcement for scheduling rules.
“Director Hamilton noted his full support for the requirement that employees must accurately record a veteran’s ‘desired date’ for an appointment,” Scovill said.
In mid-April, then-Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki directed the VA to complete a nationwide audit to ensure a full understanding of the VA’s scheduling policy, identify any inappropriate practices and review waiting list management. More than 200 schedulers were interviewed in the department’s Southeast network, and as a result, the VA identified 112 sites – including Augusta – that required further review.
The audit found that only the VA medical centers in Atlanta, Dublin and Birmingham, Ala., had a higher percentage of schedulers who felt they received instruction to enter a desired date other than the ones patients requested.
In the survey, schedulers in Augusta said training, staffing and the VA’s scheduling system “rarely” presented challenges to providing veterans access; instead, they told auditors that a lack of provider slots and the 14-day standard to get patients in for appointment were the biggest problem.
About 70 percent of Augusta schedulers said they were aware of the new enrollee appointment list and followed protocol for scheduling follow-up consultations and reminded patients on the missed-opportunity list of upcoming appointments, each of which ranked among the highest in network.
The audit expressed a concern, however, with new patients, finding that 46 percent of Augusta schedulers don’t correctly assign appointments for walk-ins.
“The facility does not use (an electronic waiting list) for new patients,” the audit read.