David E. Vollman

Staff ophthalmologist, Veterans Health Administration, St. Louis

Best known for: There are more than 50,000 cataract surgeries performed at Department of Veterans Affairs health facilities every year and more than 3 million throughout the country, but there has never been a system to collect detailed patient outcomes on a national level.

Vollman, 34, in only his second year working at St. Louis VA Medical Center, helped organize and implement a pilot project to track cataract surgery results. Now he is playing a lead role on a follow-up project to collect and study similar data from across the entire Veterans Health Administration. Vollman worked with fellow clinicians and software developers to create online templates that practitioners will use to enter information about each patient’s condition and experiences before, during and after treatment.

David Vollman is tracking VA patient data to improve cataract surgery outcomes. (Sam Kittner)

Clinicians have never had access to broad data on issues such as what medicines were used, whether a patient’s life improved, the risk factors before and after the procedure and whether the expected outcome was achieved. The data will enable ophthalmologists to make better recommendations about surgery, provide better care and ultimately improve the quality of the procedure’s results.

Cataract surgery is the most common ophthalmic surgical procedure performed by the VA and in the Medicare system. A cataract is a clouding of the eye’s natural lens and is the leading cause of vision loss in adults 55 years and older. The project so far has answered at least one key question — whether complication rates for cataract surgery in the VA health care system are higher than in private-sector hospital systems. The project found that the rates are quite low and comparable to the private sector.

Government service: Vollman began his federal career in 2011, working as a staff doctor at the St. Louis VA Medical Center. He also performs administrative activities at the medical center.

Motivation for service: During his ophthalmology residency training, Vollman believed he was having a positive impact on patients’ lives. He said that working for the VA has allowed him to “help care for patients who gave of themselves to support our country,” and that has been personally rewarding.

Biggest challenge: In developing the electronic database on cataract surgeries, the biggest challenge was figuring out a way to make things work in a system in which clinicians are already burdened by a heavy workload. “We wanted to introduce something that can help them in the long run. We didn’t want to create an additional burden on the frontline care providers by making them spend too much time entering data.”

Quote: “My main priority is providing quality patient care for the veterans. I get to build strong relationships and impact patients’ lives over a long period of time.”

— From the Partnership
for Public Service

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