I’ve known for a long time that we in VA have some of the most skilled and dedicated health care professionals in the nation. I also know our hospitals use some of the best technology around, and that our model of integrated care is second to none.
Now we have yet another major research study that attests to those facts. This one has to do with an area I am intimately familiar with – emergency care. This is a branch of VA care that is often a matter of life and death for our Veterans.
Main finding: 20% or better survival advantage
The new study appeared last week in the prestigious British Medical Journal (BMJ). It was carried out by researchers from VA, Stanford University, Carnegie Mellon University and the University of California, Berkeley. The funding came from VA, Stanford and the National Institutes of Health.
The big finding of the study was that Veterans who needed emergency care and were rushed by ambulance to a VA hospital, versus a non-VA hospital in the community, had lower mortality rates. Their survival rates were at least 20% better at the one-month mark.
VA doctor Troy Sommerville discusses with a Veteran his “Journey to Discharge” from the VA medical center. (Photo taken pre-pandemic)
The survival advantage was even bigger for minority groups. Black Veterans seen in VA emergency care were nearly 25% less likely to die within 30 days. For Hispanic Veterans, the survival edge was nearly 23%.
Study looked at 1.4 million emergency visits
The study looked at data on about 583,000 Veterans over age 65 who were taken by ambulance to emergency departments – either at VA or non-VA hospitals – between 2001 and 2018. In all, there were some 1.4 million ambulance rides. All the Veterans in the study were enrolled in both VA and Medicare.
Check out this infographic for a quick snapshot of the study.
The value of integrated care
Another important finding: Mortality rates were also lower for Veterans who were taken to hospitals where they had previously received care. This says something about the value of our integrated care system.
More than nine million Veterans are enrolled in VA care. Today, more options are available to Veterans on where to get care and that’s a good thing. But we still urge Veterans to choose VA care. That’s because we believe our 171 hospitals and 1,112 clinics do an excellent job of caring for Veterans.
Part of that is our amazing staff, many of whom are Veterans themselves. Not only are they highly skilled at what they do but they care deeply about Veterans and the VA mission.
Besides our people, another crucial factor is our system. Though our network is huge – the nation’s largest integrated health care system – we’re very good at having all the different parts talk to each other. Credit our state-of-the-art information technology, among other organizational factors.
Most studies on the topic have shown that Veterans who receive all their care – from primary care to specialty care – under “one roof,” so to speak, have better health outcomes. That may help explain, in part, some of these new findings on emergency care.
A learning health care system
We’ll use the results of this research to further optimize emergency care for Veterans, both within VA and in the community.
At our core, we’re a learning health care system. We put ourselves under the microscope. We study ourselves in an unbiased, rigorous way (Many universities and outside organizations study us as well.).
That was the case in this study, funded in part by the VA Office of Research and Development. It has also been the case in many other published studies analyzing VA care and comparing outcomes. To some people’s surprise, we generally outperform, or at least match, the private sector.
Whatever the outcomes of any one study, we’re always learning from our success and our failures, striving to do better all the time. We owe it to the Veterans we serve.