The Government Accountability Office has reported that five unnamed VA hospitals failed to fulfill requirements to report potentially dangerous healthcare providers to a national database and to state licensing authorities. That means doctors and dentists whose substandard care harmed patients were able to leave and cross state lines without their new employers or new patients being aware of their questionable records.
According to USA Today, which conducted its own lengthy investigation into malpractice at VA facilities, if these lax practices at the five facilities had been standard across the country, 90 percent of potentially dangerous medical providers would have gone unreported. Providers who should have lost their licenses would have escaped scrutiny, and since the VA pays malpractice claims against its providers, perhaps hundreds of deadly doctors would have faced no consequences. In one example cited by USA Today, “a VA hospital director failed to report a clinician who went on to work at a private sector hospital, which revoked the worker’s privileges two years later, suggesting patients were endangered.”
So, why were VA hospitals not reporting dangerously incompetent doctors? The GAO report suggests hospital administrators were equally incompetent: “Providers weren’t reported as required because VA ‘officials were generally not familiar with or misinterpreted’ the policies.” The GAO found that six providers at just one facility were not reported to the national database because the officials were “unaware that they had been delegated responsibility for…reporting.”
The GAO recommended fixes, which the VA promised to have in place within a year, including processes to ensure that reviews are documented, conducted more quickly, and overseen by regional officials who can ensure that problem healthcare providers are reported.
Certainly this is another huge problem for the VA, but it is also a problem that threatens the public at large. It’s well past time for the VA to get tough on doctors who fail to meet professional standards.
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