New VA website shares hospital wait time data, promises more accountability

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) on April 12 unveiled a new website with the goal of providing more transparency to veterans. The agency is making public data about the amount of time veterans are waiting for treatment and the quality of care at its medical facilities.

Veterans can visit the website, to view information on the VA’s 1,700 health care facilities nationwide and compare them to nearby private hospitals. They can access data on average wait times for appointments as well as patient satisfaction rankings for various VA medical centers. The agency seems to be sharing the information in an effort to encourage competition for improvement among its medical facilities.

Increasing accountability has been a key goal of recently appointed VA Secretary David Shulkin. The agency’s Acting Under Secretary for Health Poonam Alaigh said that under Shulkin’s leadership, the VA has adopted the view that outside scrutiny will serve to spur improvement.

Most lawmakers and veterans groups praised the new website for its transparency. However, some veterans organizations questioned how meaningful the published information will actually be.

The Government Accountability Office has expressed concern about the accuracy of the VA’s wait time data. For example, it does not account for the time it takes for a veteran to request care and get contacted by a scheduler to make an appointment. In addition, scheduling records have been notoriously inconsistent.

The VA website is a work in progress that is far from comprehensive. The agency is planning to add information about more areas and update wait time data monthly once the site is fully operational.