Comparing Quality of Care in Veterans Affairs and Non-Veterans Affairs Settings

J Gen Intern Med. 2018 Oct;33(10):1631-1638. doi: 10.1007/s11606-018-4433-7. Epub 2018 Apr 25.


Background: Congress, veterans' groups, and the press have expressed concerns that access to care and quality of care in Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) settings are inferior to access and quality in non-VA settings.

Objective: To assess quality of outpatient and inpatient care in VA at the national level and facility level and to compare performance between VA and non-VA settings using recent performance measure data.

Main measures: We assessed Patient Safety Indicators (PSIs), 30-day risk-standardized mortality and readmission measures, and ORYX measures for inpatient safety and effectiveness; Healthcare Effectiveness Data and Information Set (HEDIS®) measures for outpatient effectiveness; and Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems Hospital Survey (HCAHPS) and Survey of Healthcare Experiences of Patients (SHEP) survey measures for inpatient patient-centeredness. For inpatient care, we used propensity score matching to identify a subset of non-VA hospitals that were comparable to VA hospitals.

Key results: VA hospitals performed on average the same as or significantly better than non-VA hospitals on all six measures of inpatient safety, all three inpatient mortality measures, and 12 inpatient effectiveness measures, but significantly worse than non-VA hospitals on three readmission measures and two effectiveness measures. The performance of VA facilities was significantly better than commercial HMOs and Medicaid HMOs for all 16 outpatient effectiveness measures and for Medicare HMOs, it was significantly better for 14 measures and did not differ for two measures. High variation across VA facilities in the performance of some quality measures was observed, although variation was even greater among non-VA facilities.

Conclusions: The VA system performed similarly or better than the non-VA system on most of the nationally recognized measures of inpatient and outpatient care quality, but high variation across VA facilities indicates a need for targeted quality improvement.

Keywords: Veterans Affairs; Veterans Health Administration; quality; veterans.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Health Care Surveys
  • Hospital Bed Capacity / statistics & numerical data
  • Hospital Mortality
  • Hospitalization
  • Hospitals, Veterans / standards*
  • Humans
  • Outpatient Clinics, Hospital / standards
  • Patient Safety / standards
  • Quality Indicators, Health Care
  • Quality of Health Care*
  • United States
  • United States Department of Veterans Affairs / statistics & numerical data