Reinventing Veterans Health Administration: focus on primary care

Brent Armstrong, Odette Levesque, Jonathan B Perlin, Cathy Rick, Gordon Schectman
Journal of Healthcare Management / American College of Healthcare Executives 2005, 50 (6): 399-408; discussion 409
Can we improve access in primary care without compromising the quality of care? The purpose of this article is to demonstrate how timely access to primary care can be achieved without compromising the quality of the care being delivered. The Veterans Health Administration (VHA) is an integrated healthcare system that has implemented change to improve primary care access to the veterans it serves, while not only maintaining but also actually improving the quality of care. Many healthcare executives are struggling with achieving desirable access to care and continuity of care. To confront this problem, many large and small practices have initiated an approach known as advanced clinic access, open access, or same-day scheduling, introduced by the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI). This approach has increasingly been used to reduce waits and delays in primary care without adding resources. To measure quality of care, specific performance measures were developed to quantify the effectiveness of primary care in VHA. Although it was initially viewed with concern and suspicion and was seen as a symptom of unnecessary micromanagement, healthcare team members were encouraged to use performance feedback as an opportunity for systems improvement as well as self-assessment and performance improvement for the team. All quality data are posted quarterly on VHA's internal web site, providing visible accountability at all levels of the organization. Clinical workflow redesign leads to reduced wait times without compromising quality of care. These large system improvements are applicable to large and small organizations looking to tackle change through the use of a collaborative model.

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