V.A. Wait Times Now Shorter Than for Private Doctors

By | January 22, 2019

Wait times for an appointment at Veterans Affairs hospitals have decreased since 2014 and are now, on average, shorter than those in the private sector, a new study shows.

Researchers used V.A. data to calculate wait times for about 17 million appointments. The public sector data came from a survey conducted by a physicians’ search firm in nearly 2,000 medical offices in 30 major and midsize metropolitan areas.

The study, in JAMA Network Open, covered four specialties: primary care, cardiology, dermatology and orthopedics.

In 2014 the average wait time in V.A. hospitals was 22.5 days, compared with 18.7 in the private sector, a statistically insignificant difference. But by 2017, mean wait time at V.A. hospitals had gone down to 17.7 days, while rising to 29.8 for private practitioners.

Wait times at V.A. hospitals were shorter in all specialties except orthopedics, which required 20.9 days to get an appointment, compared with 12.4 days in the private sector.

In some geographic areas, particularly in the South, where veterans are retiring in large numbers, longer wait times persist.

“There’s an impression that V.A. hospitals are not as efficient as the private sector,” said the senior author, Dr. David Shulkin, the former Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs. “This study shows that we’ve made significant progress, and now wait times in many cases are actually shorter than in the private sector.”