Comparison of Quality of Care for Patients in the Veterans Health Administration and Patients in a National Sample

Published in: Annals of Internal Medicine, v.141, no. 12, Dec. 21, 2004, p. 938-945

Posted on RAND.org on December 31, 2003

by Steven M. Asch, Elizabeth A. McGlynn, Mary M. Hogan, Rodney A. Hayward, Paul G. Shekelle, Lisa V. Rubenstein, Joan Keesey, John L. Adams, Eve A. Kerr

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BACKGROUND: The Veterans Health Administration (VHA) has introduced an integrated electronic medical record, performance measurement, and other system changes directed at improving care. Recent comparisons with other delivery systems have been limited to a small set of indicators. OBJECTIVE: To compare the quality of VHA care with that of care in a national sample by using a comprehensive quality-of-care measure. DESIGN: Cross-sectional comparison. SETTING: 12 VHA health care systems and 12 communities. $Patients: 596 VHA patients and 992 patients identified through random-digit dialing. All were men older than 35 years of age. MEASUREMENTS: Between 1997 and 2000, quality was measured by using a chart-based quality instrument consisting of 348 indicators targeting 26 conditions. Results were adjusted for clustering, age, number of visits, and medical conditions. RESULTS: Patients from the VHA scored significantly higher for adjusted overall quality (67% vs. 51%; difference, 16 percentage points [95% CI, 14 to 18 percentage points]), chronic disease care (72% vs. 59%; difference, 13 percentage points [CI, 10 to 17 percentage points]), and preventive care (64% vs. 44%; difference, 20 percentage points [CI, 12 to 28 percentage points]), but not for acute care. The VHA advantage was most prominent in processes targeted by VHA performance measurement (66% vs. 43%; difference, 23 percentage points [CI, 21 to 26 percentage points]) and least prominent in areas unrelated to VHA performance measurement (55% vs. 50%; difference, 5 percentage points [CI, 0 to 10 percentage points]). LIMITATIONS: Unmeasured residual differences in patient characteristics, a lower response rate in the national sample, and differences in documentation practices could have contributed to some of the observed differences. CONCLUSIONS: Patients from the VHA received higher-quality care according to a broad measure. Differences were greatest in areas where the VHA has established performance measures and actively monitors performance.

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