Purpose: To evaluate the impact of the reorganization of an academic Veterans Affairs medical center toward primary and ambulatory care--including the implementation of a medical-center-wide interdisciplinary firm system and ambulatory care training program--on the quality of primary ambulatory care.
Method: Randomly selected male veterans visiting the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Sepulveda, California, were surveyed in 1992, early in the implementation of the program, and in 1993, after the program had been fully implemented. Two surveys were used: one before the veterans saw their primary care providers (practice-based survey) and the other immediately after patient visits (visit-based survey). Survey-participant data were then linked to computerized utilization and mortality data. Survey topics were mapped to the medical center's strategic plan and goals for ambulatory care, and focused on patients' reports about the care they had received in terms of continuity, access, preventive care, and other aspects of the biopsychosocial model of care. Administrative computer data were then used to evaluate effects on medical center workload. Statistical analyses included analysis of variance, analysis of covariance, chi-square, and logistic regression.
Results: For practice-based comparisons, complete data were available for 1,262 veterans in 1992 and 1,373 in 1993. For visit-based comparisons, complete data were available for 1,407 veterans in 1992 and 643 in 1993. Results included statistically significant improvements in continuity of care and detection of depression as well as increased rates of preventive care counseling (smoking and exercise). The proportion of veterans reporting being seen by physicians increased, as did the proportion of patients seen for check-ups rather than for acute problems. Fewer patients were seen in subspecialty clinics than in general medicine clinics. Patient satisfaction increased, hospitalizations decreased, and death rates decreased. Alcohol counseling and access to care for acute symptoms declined. Workload shifted from subspecialists to generalists and from inpatient care to outpatient care.
Conclusion: The institutional reorganization toward primary and ambulatory care succeeded in substantially improving the quality of ambulatory care, reflecting improvements in the system of care and of health care provider training in ambulatory care.