VA hospitals on par with private sector for patient satisfaction

Former military service members using Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals are just as happy with their care as patients using private medical clinics, according to a leading customer-satisfaction survey.

The American Customer Satisfaction Index for 2013 shows that the VA health network, which serves more than 8 million veterans, achieved marks equal to or better than those in the private sector.


VA Secretary Eric Shinseki interacts with Charles and Glenda Carson at a VA medical center in Hampton, Va. – (Matt Eich for The Washington Post)

The health system earned overall satisfaction indexes of 84 for inpatient care and 82 for outpatient services, while the U.S. hospital industry earned scores of 80 and 83 in those categories, respectively.

“Our nation’s veterans deserve the best care, and the ACSI survey results help us better understand how veterans feel about their overall care experience at the VA,” Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki said in a statement about the results on Wednesday. “There is always more work to do, and we are focused on continuous improvement to the care we provide.”

Jacob Gadd, the American Legion’s deputy director for health care, said the scores reflect “pride among veterans that there’s a system for them that understands their unique needs.” He also credited the VA with bolstering satisfaction levels through new initiatives such as its system of “patient-aligned care teams” that provide patients with personalized care from a group of health professionals that fit their individual needs.

Despite good news on the customer-satisfaction front, not all has been completely well with the VA health system. Last year, the House Veterans Affairs Committee held a hearing on preventable deaths at VA hospitals following a series of high-profile incidents, which officials said are not indicative of a systemic problems for the department.

The VA provided nearly 90 million outpatient visits last year, and its medical network handles about 236,000 health-care appointments each day, according to the department.

Veterans overwhelmingly expressed positive views about customer service at VA health centers, with more than 90 percent survey respondents indicating favorable opinions for inpatient and outpatient care.

Ninety-two percent of respondents said VA medical providers are highly courteous, while 91 percent said the same of appointment personnel. Additionally, more than 95 percent of the survey takers said they would use a VA medical center the next time they need care.

The VA also earned high marks last year for its National Cemetery Administration, which beat out all other federal agencies and even some top corporations with a score of 96 in the ACSI. That mark represented the highest rating for both the public and private sectors, and it placed the VA cemetery network 28 points higher than the average for all federal agencies.

Follow Josh Hicks on TwitterFacebook or Google+. Connect by e-mail at  josh.hicks(at)washpost.comVisit The Federal Eye, and The Fed Page for more federal news. Submit news tips and suggestions to federalworker@washpost.com.

Josh Hicks covers the federal government and anchors the Federal Eye blog. He reported for newspapers in the Detroit and Seattle suburbs before joining the Post as a contributor to Glenn Kessler’s Fact Checker blog in 2011.
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