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Survey: VA Can't Be Fixed, States Association of American Physicians and Surgeons

TUCSON, Ariz., June 24, 2014 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- The Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS) released results of an online survey to which more than 1,000 physicians, other medical professionals, and patients responded.

A bare majority (52%) said that VA care was "good in some areas, but fraught with many serious problems," and 22% responded that it was "ok if you can get it, but access seriously limited." Only about 5% checked "generally good" or "equivalent to private sector." Nearly 20% checked "other" and suggested a term equivalent to "poor." One said "hard to tell how bad because they destroy or hide records." Another suggested that it's an "illusion of care."

Only about 9% of respondents said the problems could be "fixed" by firing people, and less than 3% by large increases in funding. About 66% suggested privatization. Some commented that the vast majority of veterans also use private care.

More than 200 physicians submitted comments. Frequently mentioned were a rigid bureaucracy that interfered with care and punished physicians who reported problems, and unionized support staff whose main concern was leaving on time. Surgery could not be scheduled to start after 1:00 or 2:00 p.m. because it might keep people from getting off at 3:00 p.m. "It's not my job," or "I'm on break" were frequent responses to requests for help, even a request to call a "code" on a patient who had had a cardiac arrest.

"No VA employee, however incompetent, could ever be fired," stated one physician. Another said, "Incompetence is accepted ..., and keeping quiet about it is the accepted norm."

Appalling circumstances were reported by some, including discovery of a dead, cold patient on morning rounds, whose chart had normal vital signs posted every 4 hours.

The VA's electronic medical records system is frequently held up as an example to emulate. One respondent physician reported, however, that he "rarely received usable medical records which accurately summarized a patient's history." Another private physician who cares for many veterans said "information is a black hole." The focus has shifted from patient care to measuring productivity and cost, with "pressure from management to 'improve the numbers,'" one physician observed.

One quality measure was the percentage of diabetics who got screening eye examinations. One facility responded by purchasing a camera that was supposed to photograph the retina and posting nurse-made photos in the chart. No one looked at them—most of them showed only the eyelids, the doctor said.

More than 50 nonphysicians also posted comments.

Those who fought for freedom are stuck in a socialized system, one remarked: "a tragedy."

The Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS) is a national organization representing physicians in all specialties, founded in 1943 to preserve private medicine and the patient-physician relationship.

CONTACT: Jane M. Orient, M.D., (520) 323-3110, janeorientmd@gmail.comSource:Association of American Physicians and Surgeons