Sun Investigates

Maryland VA healthcare system says primary care wait list cut down

Senior doctors in the VA Maryland Medical System say they have solved the problems that 21/2 years ago left veterans waiting an average of 80 days to get their first primary care appointment.

In November, the average wait was down to about 7 days, said Dr. Amit Khosla, a VA physician in Baltimore.


"Right now we have very, very good access in primary care," Khosla said. "We have put a lot of emphasis on getting the patients in quickly."

The delays in scheduling primary care appointments were revealed in an internal audit performed by the Department of Veterans Affairs in 2014 after it was revealed that doctors at some facilities had been creating secret wait lists to hide problems.


The 80-day wait made Maryland's system the fourth-worst performing VA system among 141 nationwide.

Tracking the VA's performance over time can be difficult. The department produces reams of data and posts much of it online, but frequently changes the way it measures performance, making it hard to develop a clear understanding of how it has changed.

For example, the 80-day average from 2014 reflects the average wait a veteran could expect upon making an appointment for a first primary care visit.

The 7-day average from November reflects the actual wait for appointments that were completed.

Khosla blamed long wait times in Maryland on a lack of staff. The VA contracted with an outside company to help get veterans seen, he said, and then built up its own team to handle the hundreds of patients a month who seek care in the system.

VA officials say the shorter wait times for new patients are among several improvements they have made in recent years, and that veterans report being more satisfied with their treatment.

Dr. Sandra Marshall, the chief of staff for the VA Maryland Medical System, said her team has been working to gather and analyze data on their performance and use it to make improvements.

Marshall said the VA is trying to gather such information in real time.


"We don't want to get information after the fact," she said. "We want to address things at the time we can make a positive impact."