At a recent conference of the Association of Health Care Journalists, Dr. David Shulkin, VA Under Secretary for Health, reported on some of the progress the VA is making in improving access to care for veterans.
Dr. Shulkin reported several measurable signs of progress, such as 57.36 million completed appointments from March 1, 2015 through February 29, 2016, up 1.6 million from the same period in 2014-2015. In addition, over 3 million authorizations for private sector care were given out by the VA and Choice contractors from February 1, 2015 through January 31, 2016, up 12% over the same period the year before. In February 2016, 96.46% of appointments at VA facilities were completed within 30 days of the date when it was clinically indicated or the date the veteran wanted. During 2015, the VA increased staffing, added 2.2 million square feet of workspace to provide clinical and long-term care and support services, and extended hours into the evenings and weekends at some locations.
Dr. Shulkin also introduced MyVA Access, a new initiative with the primary goal of transforming the entire VA health care system into a service organization focused on providing our veterans with quality health care in a timely manner, when and how they want to receive it. Part of this will be providing same-day access to both primary and mental health care when medically necessary. While a list is not available, 34 VA facilities currently offer same-day appointments and the VA hopes to have this service available at all of its facilities by the end of 2016. You can find out if your local VA facility offers same-day appointments by calling them directly.
In addition to this program, Dr. Shulkin announced new technology designed to make it easier for veterans to access and manage their care. The Veterans Appointment Request App is a new smart phone app which lets veterans make and cancel appointments for both primary and mental health care. Veterans can also use the app to track their appointment requests and review future appointments. The VAR App is currently being field-tested at 10 VA healthcare locations, but the VA expects it to be available to all veterans by early 2017.
The VA has also been using a pilot program in 10 locations that allows veterans to use new scheduling software on the website to check wait times in real time for their location. The VA has not announced a time frame for wide-spread use of this program. Contact your local VA to see if it is available in your area.