The VA's 5 Star ratings system was phased out this past December to make way for a new approach. The new ratings and comparison system intends to make it easier for prospective patients to compare VA facilities with other healthcare facilities in their area, something that was difficult with the previous system. Today's post will look at the new VA Hospital Compare.
In 2016, a leaked internal document revealed to the public the VA's 5 star rating system, a way of ranking VA facilities according to quality of care and service. While the VA did not intend to make these ratings public, the leak pressured the nation's largest integrated healthcare system to be more transparent about how its facilities compare to each other.
In the following years, the 5 star system was made publicly available, but because the ratings were unique to the VA, it made comparing VA facilities to non-VA facilities difficult and even misleading. A facility with a low 5 star rating, for example, could still be the best overall facility in a given region. A new system was required in order to help patients compare apples to apples.
As of this January, that new system is up and running. From any VA facility's website, the consumer can select "Compare your VA Facility" from the menu bar on the left of the site. Under that item are three choices, described in more detail below.
I. Wait Times: Prospective patients can search by location or facility name and get an average wait time for Access (getting an appointment) or a list of facilities that provide Same Day Service.
II. Quality of Care: This is the most robust section, made up of 5 categories.
- Hospital Compare: Search by location and then compare facilities by quality measure, including all tracked HAIs such as MRSA and CDI. Data sets are primarily from CMS' Hospital Compare, the VA's internal system called Why Not the Best VA? (WNTBVA), and the VA's Strategic Analytics for Improvement and Learning (SAIL) scores.
- Nursing Home Compare: Still using the 5 star system, this section may be updated when national quality measures are set for nursing homes and other long-term facilities.
- Outpatient Compare: Consumers can search by location. Comparisons use National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA) and Regional Healthcare Effectiveness Data and Information Set (HEDIS) data to create a regional average based on VA regions.
- Patient Experience Compare: Uses Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (CAHPS) tool and system used by non-VA facilities to measure patient satisfaction for Access, Care Coordination, Comprehensiveness (Stress Discussed), and Patient's Rating of Provider.
- VA Facility Quality Data: This data uses quality measures from Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) Patient Safety Indicators (PSIs), CMS Hospital Compare, WNTBVA and SAIL.
III. Veteran Satisfaction: Using the CAHPS tool, Veterans are asked about their ease of access to Routine Care and Urgent Care. The results are shown as a percentage of respondents who answered "Always" or "Usually."
There is currently a growing trend for more transparency in healthcare nation-wide, with consumers demanding data in order to make informed decisions about their medical care. The VA, long an innovator in healthcare, joins this movement with their new ratings system, allowing veterans to see whether their VA facility meets - or exceeds - all the other healthcare options in their community. Ultimately, the hope is that veterans access quality medical care when they need it.