Military Health System Provides Average Patient Access, Care Quality
A widespread review of the military's health care system found that while care is relatively on par with that provided by private providers, treatment fell short in some instances, the Los Angeles Times' "Nation Now" reports.
Department of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered a 90-day comprehensive review of the military health care system to determine whether it is facing problems similar to those outlined in allegations of delayed care at various Veterans Affairs health centers. Hagel ordered the review shortly after the wife of soldier died following treatment at the Womack Army Center at Fort Bragg, N.C., one of the military system's busiest hospitals.
The report focused on patients' access to care and the quality and safety of care. It found that on average, patients could schedule appointments with specialty care providers within about 12 days, which is better than the DOD's 28-day standard (Hennigan, "Nation Now," Los Angeles Times, 10/2). However, the review also found that at about one-fifth of the system's hospitals, patients could not access acute, non-emergency care within 24 hours (LaFraniere/Lehren, New York Times, 10/1).
Meanwhile, the review also found high rates of surgical complications. For example, mothers who delivered their babies at military care centers had higher chances of experiencing hemorrhages than those who delivered at private facilities. In addition, babies delivered at the centers were more likely to sustain injuries ("Nation Now," Los Angeles Times, 10/2).
Further, the report noted that military medical workers are hesitant to report safety problems out of fear of retribution. The report also showed that almost every hospital in the system failed to meet at least one access, safety or quality benchmark (New York Times, 10/1). It also noted that the military lacks the ability to analyze data across the system that could be used "to guide decision making in quality and patient safety" (Riechmann, AP/Sacramento Bee, 10/1).
Still, the report concluded that overall, the military health care system "provides good quality of care that is safe and timely" (New York Times, 10/1).
Hagel Orders Improvements
In response to the report, Hagel ordered the DOD to develop a plan to improve and track care at all of the military's hospitals and clinics by the end of the year (AP/Sacramento Bee, 10/1). In addition, Hagel ordered that any facility found to have delayed patient access must submit a plan to improve access within 30 days. Meanwhile, facilities found to have substandard care quality or safety must submit an improvement plan within 45 days.
Further, Hagel said the Pentagon will create unified care standards that will be made available to the public and allow for patient feedback ("Nation Now," Los Angeles Times, 10/2).
The orders were contained in three pages of directives Hagel gave to heads of the armed services (New York Times, 10/1). Hagel said he would place DOD Deputy Secretary Robert Work in charge of the efforts (O'Brien, CQ Roll Call, 10/1).
Hagel said, "We cannot accept average when it comes to caring for our men and women in uniform and their families," adding, "Even small lapses in care can lead to devastating and heartbreaking losses or injuries." He said the actions the department is taking "are the beginning, not the end of our efforts to improve the military health care system" ("Nation Now," Los Angeles Times, 10/2).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.