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VA Turns To CVS For Help With Patient Care

Military veterans in Northern California can get faster access to medical care thanks to a public-private partnership pilot program.

As the embattled Department of Veterans Affairs looks for ways to reduce chronic wait times at its medical facilities, a new partnership with CVS could provide a blueprint for the rest of the country. In May, the VA and the pharmacy chain will allow veterans to use 14 MinuteClinics in the Bay Area and Sacramento, according to The Sacramento Bee.

At those locations, veterans will have access to basic health care for things like colds and infections, vaccinations, blood tests, screening, and prevention and wellness programs. With the consent of veterans, the pharmacy chain will forward test results and treatment summaries to doctors at the VA, who are the primary care providers for veterans.

"By allowing our electronic health records to communicate and share important clinical information, we'll have a more comprehensive view of the Veterans we collectively serve, which will enable important health care decision making and ensure continuity of care," said Andrew Sussman, a CVS executive.

The partnership is intended to take some of the load off of medical professionals at the VA. Medical care at the MinuteClinics will be free to veterans, and the government will reimburse the company for its services.

Long wait times have plagued the VA system, and in some cases they're literally killing military veterans -- a 2014 investigation by CNN identified 40 former service members who died while waiting for appointments at the VA. The investigation found patients waited about three months on average for appointments, while wait times of six months or longer were common.

The report prompted a government investigation and eventually led to the resignations of Dr. Robert Petzel, the VA's undersecretary, as well as Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki. In addition to providing substandard care and making veterans wait unreasonably long times for medical appointments, VA officials falsified documents and waiting lists to make it look like the average waiting time was 24 days for appointments, instead of the 115 days veterans waited on average, according to The Washington Post.

Support staff at the VA were instructed by superiors to "cook the books" and modify records to cover up the problems. Instead of admitting that the patient caseload was too heavy, VA officials found new ways to hide the administration's problems, particularly officials whose bonuses were tied to measures of success like patient wait times, a Washington Post investigation found.

Congress tried to help remedy the issue with a $10 billion "Veterans Choice" program that was intended to give patients more options, but wait times actually increased after the program started, reports The Sacramento Bee.

VA officials will look at the CVS partnership after a year, then decide whether it's successful enough to roll out in other states. With more than 1,100 MinuteClinics in 35 states, officials said they hope CVS can help them reach more veterans.

“We’d love to have that opportunity to expand after we go through this phase,” Sussman told The Sacramento Bee. “We’re well suited to help because of our large footprint and ability to see people on a quick basis.”

Sources: The Sacramento Bee, The Washington Post, CVS Health / Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

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