Patients experiencing interminable delays in scheduling appointments for care at the San Diego Veterans Administration hospital aren’t just imagining things. So concludes a health-care inspection report released last month by the VA’s inspector general. The investigation was launched after a desperate hospital outpatient wrote a letter to the chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee relating repeated failed attempts to get in to see a doctor. “The complainant is a veteran in his mid 20’s with diagnoses of cancer and post-traumatic stress disorder,” said the report, which went on to say that the man had been repeatedly stymied by the hospital’s phone scheduling system. “Specifically, he experienced long holding times (as much as 45 minutes), hang-ups, and the inability to leave messages due to the voice message box being full. From October 2007 through February 2008, scheduling call center data showed a call abandonment rate of more than 30 percent, while the goal is less than 10 percent. The scheduling call center manager acknowledged the problems.”
The hospital also suffered from inadequate staffing. “Several months ago, when the complainant was experiencing difficulties obtaining care, the primary care clinic’s nurse case manager position was vacant. We discussed the complainant’s situation with the attending physician, and a nurse case manager was assigned to him during our visit.” According to the report, the call center issues are being taken care of.