Study Examines Veterans Affairs Healthcare Access Program

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Timely access to medical care is extremely important for military veterans, especially those with serious medical conditions. Jerrold H. May, Katz Professor of Business Administration

In 2015, the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) embarked on a new initiative intended to improve access to care at its hospitals across the country, called MyVA Access. But was the program working?

To answer that question, the VHA asked a team of researchers from the University of Pittsburgh’s Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of Business (KGSB) and from the School of Pharmacy’s Program Evaluation and Research Unit (PERU) to evaluate the MyVA Access initiative.  The KGSB team’s part of the evaluation included a rigorous, statistical evaluation of quantitative, access-related measures.

In total, the study collected data from 140 Veterans’ health facilities across the country, including Pittsburgh. Drawing on the surveys that patients complete after receiving medical care, and on information from VA operational data, a comparison was made of the values of the metrics during the period from roughly one year before the MyVA Access program was implemented, to the values of the same metrics during the period of one year after implementation.

This past December, the University of Pittsburgh team released its report. Key measures of patient access to care had, indeed, improved.

“The data showed that access-related patient satisfaction improved significantly, and complaints decreased significantly. Additionally, the wait time for urgent care-related consultations improved at 74% of all VHA facilities,” says Co-Principal Investigator Jerrold H. May, a Katz professor of business administration.

According to May, the report examined the fundamental questions: Had Veterans’ access to care improved, and is the program’s strategy of prioritizing urgent care appointments over routine care appointments the better course of action. He says the study determined that the answer to both questions was a definitive yes.

“The data showed that, from the Veteran’s perspective, the increased focus on access to urgent care was not associated with a significant adverse effect on one’s access to routine care,” May says.

May worked on the project with Katz Senior Researcher Youxu “Tammy” Cai Tjader, and with Katz professor Luis G. Vargas, who carried out the data analysis jointly with him.

The study was the most recent example of May’s work with the VHA. He has completed a number of major projects over the years that have used big data and advanced computing techniques to improve how health care is delivered to the nation’s military Veterans.

The part of the evaluation team headed by Co-Principal Investigator Professor Janice L. Pringle, from the Pitt School of Pharmacy, conducted interviews with Veterans Affairs managers at 36 facilities, and with Veterans Engineering Resource Center staff.  The data collected from the interviews was used to measure and to model organizational characteristics at those facilities, and to link the organizational variables to the secondary source data collected by the Katz part of the team.  

As a result of that work, the researchers made several recommendations for how the VA can enhance its MyVA Access program at the organizational level. Ideas included engaging staff in communication programs, diffusing strong leadership principles throughout all levels of facility leadership, developing a simple performance measurement system, developing highly specified implementation plans, using effective methods for hiring staff, and implementing training programs that provide just-in-time knowledge and skills to staff.

Professor Pringle from the Pitt School of Pharmacy credited the VHA for the efforts to improve its health care delivery thus far.

“The VA has done a remarkable job of improving veteran care access across the system, especially for urgent care, in a relatively short period of time,” Pringle says.

Katz and the Health Sciences

The Katz School has made a significant commitment to being a leader in the intersection between business and health. In addition to its research agenda on health issues, the school has created a new Executive MBA in Healthcare Program in affiliation with UPMC, a Master in Pharmacy Business Administration program with the Pitt School of Pharmacy, and a MBA/Master of Health Administration in Health Policy and Management program with the Pitt Graduate School of Public Health.