By J.G. Noll
In the wee hours of the morning, the Department of Veterans Affairs newest website–accesstocare.va.gov–went live. The site, which has been in development and testing “for several months,” became the newest tool in the VA’s push to make the department and its services more transparent.
Here’s how the site works
The site is broken into four sections: “What Veterans Say About Access to Care,” “How Quickly Can My VA Facility See Me?” “How Does Care in My VA Facility Compare to Other Hospitals in the Area?” and “How is the VA System Doing with Access Nationally?”
What Veterans Say About Access to Care
Click “What Veterans Say About Access to Care” and search by zip code, radius (5 to 250 miles), and appointment type (primary care, urgent; primary care, routine; specialty care, urgent; specialty care, routine). You can sort the results by distance, facility name, and score. Once you make your selections, a map (powered by Bing) of locations matching your search criteria populates along with a chart giving the facilities’ names, distance from your search zip code, and the rating for the appointment care you selected.
Currently, those ratings are based on data collected from VA patients between July 1, 2016 and December 31, 2016. The percentage that is shown denotes the percentage of patients (at least 30) who chose that they were “always or usually able to get an appointment when needed” at a given facility. This means that the data shown is at least four months old and does not reflect the effects of the recent hiring freeze, the new Secretary of the VA David Shulkin’s priorities, or any changes that may have happened systemically since the new administration took office. It also means that the data is not user-uploaded, which begs the question: When and how often will new data be processed and uploaded?
How Quickly Can My VA Facility See Me?
Click “How Quickly Can My VA Facility See Me” and choose whether you want to search for average wait times or same-day services. You’ll be taken to a map where you can filter results based on your location and needs. The wait time data is straight-forward: It’s simply the facility’s average wait time from the last month, calculated in days.
How Does Care in My VA Facility Compare to Other Hospitals in the Area?
You’re also able to compare VA facilities to other local, non-VA hospitals. Here, you are taken to a page with 16 states and the District of Columbia listed and can choose to view a comparison chart based on the facility. That means, currently, for Washington State, there’s data available for the Seattle VA Medical Center. . . but no other VA facilities in the state.
And, while the website is set up to also help you compare data for outpatient clinics as well, it is not functional yet.
How is the VA System Doing with Access Nationally?
You can choose to see national data on wait times or national data on specialty care. When you click to find out more about wait times, you’re taken to an overly simplistic two-item flow chart. It is marked as having been updated April 1, 2017. The same happens when you find out about specialty care: A two-item flow chart that was updated April 1.
The website still has glitches. For example, when a new search is made, the Bing map slowly drifts left and up, which at the very least is annoying, and at the most could be difficult for the elderly or visually impaired to navigate successfully. There are also large gaps in information and data that are accessible through the site; however, according to USA Today, more updates to the site are planned in the near future.
J.G. Noll is the Editor of Military One Click and a veteran’s spouse. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.