Why Did VA Scrap Its Star Rating System?

Officials at the Department of Veterans Affairs recently announced that individual VA hospitals will not get star ratings anymore. Instead, the VA will provide measurements like wait times, patient satisfaction ratings and medical services, along with quality assessments on their individual websites.

This move will let vets compare VA facilities with nearby public and private medical centers, said Military Times’ recent article entitled “VA drops its star ratings system for hospitals.”

“Star ratings were developed as an Internal tool meant to compare one VA facility to another,” VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said in a statement. “These ratings do not provide insight as to how our hospitals stack up against nearby non-VA facilities and are therefore of little value in helping veterans make informed health care decisions.”

VA officials say the change to do away with the star rating system will improve transparency. The move was first made public in a series of articles in USA Today.

The Veterans Affairs Administration’s ratings were frequently “misinterpreted,” they said. The ratings compared VA facilities by ranking them across the department’s health care system, instead of by “geography, population characteristics or unique care offerings” of neighboring non-VA facilities.

Although the VA hospital ratings didn’t permit vets to compare VA facilities with local medical centers, they did provide patients with an idea of how their VA hospital compared with the others and if it was doing well or declining.

When the ratings were originally published in 2016, 10 medical facilities had a 1-star rating, while 90 had shown “significant improvement” over a set of baseline measures. By 2019, the number of medical facilities that received a 1-star rating was down to nine, including three that had been on the list since 2016: El Paso, Memphis, and Phoenix.

Former VA Secretary Dr. David Shulkin told USA Today that the ratings weren’t published as the VA didn’t want vets to think that if their hospital was awarded just a single one star, they wouldn’t receive quality care and would stop going.

While Shulkin had concerns about publishing the measures, by 2018, Secretary Robert Wilkie praised the results when they were made public. That year, the system showed improvements at 66% of VA medical centers. Only one location received a one-star rating.

“With closer monitoring and increased medical center leadership and support, we have seen solid improvements at most of our facilities,” Wilkie said at the time. “Even our highest performing facilities are getting better, and that is driving up our quality standards across the country.”

But in December, Wilkie commented that the new facility-based websites will “make it easier for veterans to choose the best possible care close to home, when and where they need it.”

Instead of the star system, the VA will still publish its Strategic Analytics for Improvement and Learning, or SAIL data, that provides an in-depth look of 14 metrics quality of care measures at all VA medical facilities.

Reference: Military Times (Jan. 2, 2020) “VA drops its star ratings system for hospitals”