VA ends 'often misinterpreted' star ratings for its hospitals, clinics

PhoenixVA
Photo credit VA
By Connecting Vets

Now that veterans have more opportunities and choices for care, the Department of Veterans Affairs says its doing away with internally ranking its hospitals, clinics and other medical facilities using a scale of 1 to 5 stars. 

The VA announced the change Wednesday, saying the move would make it easier for veterans to compare VA facilities to non-VA hospitals and clinics and arguing that the star ratings were "often misinterpreted." 

Veterans, veteran service organizations and members of Congress have consistently cited low-star ratings when discussing underperforming VA facilities, including the Phoenix VA Healthcare System, where the waitlist scandal originated. 

“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 healthcare decisions. This change will make it easier for veterans to choose the best possible care close to home, when and where they need it.”

Since the star ratings were created to rank VA hospitals against each other, and veterans now have expanded access to private care through the MISSION Act, VA said its star ratings "are often misinterpreted" and "can often misrepresent an assessment of overall hospital quality." 

VA said it asked veterans if they used the star-rating system to make decisions about VA health care and "veterans in VA focus groups have indicated they do not consult the star ratings in making decisions about VA care." 

VA says it will not publish further star ratings, but it will continue to publicly provide the data that typically accompanied those ratings, including "death rates, complications, safety and patient satisfaction and overall efficiency and physician capacity" so veterans can still track performance of individual VA hospitals. 

Websites for VA hospitals now will feature links to "comparative tools relating to wait times, quality of medical care and patient experience ratings," VA said in its announcement. 

The information for those comparison tools is pulled from quality-of-care measures provided by "industry-standard sources including but not limited to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, National Committee for Quality Assurance and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality," VA said.

Under the "Quality of Care" section of the VA website, the department explains the star-rating system

"Each VA medical center is assessed for overall quality from two perspectives: 1. Relative performance compared to other VA medical centers using a star-rating system from 1 to 5, and 2. Improvement compared to its own performance from the past year."

VA said the changes were influenced by Government Accountability Office recommendations in 2017 and 2019 and "will help veterans navigate the many new choices available to them under the MISSION Act." 

Reach Abbie Bennett: abbie@connectingvets.com or @AbbieRBennett.
Want to get more connected to the stories and resources Connecting Vets has to offer? Click here to sign up for our weekly newsletter. 

Pentagon plan moves more retirees, family members out of military hospitals to civilian doctors