WASHINGTON — Veterans receiving care at Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) Medical Centers will now be able to schedule routine ear and eye appointments at local VA Audiology and Optometry clinics without a primary care referral – a move that eliminates multiple steps and gets Veterans into appointments quicker.
Before now, Veterans seeking appointments with audiologists or optometrists had to first make an appointment with a primary care physician for a referral for a routine clinic consult visit. A clinic representative would contact the patient to set up the consult appointment, which could result in a several weeks’-long lag between the appointment and when the Veteran was actually seen. The new process, the Audiology and Optometry Direct Scheduling Initiative, which began as a successful pilot at three sites in 2015, is being expanded to all VA Medical Centers.
“The Audiology and Optometry Direct Scheduling Initiative allows Veterans who need eye and ear care to be seen sooner,” said VA Secretary Robert A. McDonald. “It also has the benefit of freeing up primary care physicians so access to primary care improves for other Veterans as well. This kind of process improvement is exactly the type of innovation we expected when we launched MyVA in 2014. In the end, we changed a VA process by considering the needs of our Veterans, a change that allows for more timely care and an improved Veteran experience.”
The Audiology and Optometry Direct Scheduling Initiative is one of a number of efforts underway at VA to improve Veterans’ access to care and wait times. Among those recent accomplishments:
• VA and Choice contractors created more than 3.1 million authorizations for Veterans to receive care in the private sector from May 1, 2015 through April 30, 2016. This represents an 8-percent increase in authorizations when compared to the same period in 2014/2015.
• In FY 2015, 12 percent of all Veterans enrolled for VA care received telehealth-based care. This includes more than 2 million telehealth visits touching 677,000 Veterans; 45 percent of these Veterans live in rural areas.
• In FY 2015, more than 6,300 Veterans accessed VA care through live interactive video telehealth from home.
• VA has activated over 3.9 million square feet of space in the past two years.
• We’ve increased authorizations for care in the community 46% in the past two years.
• Clinic production is up 10 percent as measured by the same productivity standard used by many private-sector healthcare systems. This increase translates into roughly 20 million additional hours of care for Veterans.
• As we improve access to care, more and more Veterans are choosing VA care — for the quality, for the convenience, or for the cost-savings so even though we’re completing millions more appointments, we continue to have more work to do.
• VA has increased salaries for physicians and dentists to close the pay gap with the private sector and to make VA an employer of choice. With more competitive salaries, VA will be better positioned to retain and hire more health care providers to care for Veterans.
“We want our Veterans and those who care for them to know that we are doing everything that we can to improve their experience with VA and to provide the care our Veterans deserve in a thoughtful and timely way,” said VA Under Secretary Dr. David J. Shulkin.“We have made progress, but know there is more work to be done. This Audiology and Optometry Direct Scheduling Initiative is one of many initiatives underway to improve Veterans access to care.”
The Audiology and Optometry Direct Scheduling Initiative is expected to be fully operational within all VA Medical Centers by the end of 2016.