NEW YORK — Data released by Veterans Affairs officials this week appeared to confirm that new patients at the agency's medical centers were routinely waiting 30, 50 or even more than 90 days to see a doctor. It turns out those statistics came with some big caveats.
Average wait times at many of the facilities are likely much shorter, Philip Matkovsky, an assistant deputy undersecretary at the Department of Veterans Affairs, told the Associated Press on Friday. He said information about patients who received care very quickly was left out of the analysis for technical reasons.
"They are valid numbers," he said of audit results issued Monday, but acknowledged that the exclusion of those receiving swift care and other factors led to longer average reported wait times for some facilities than were actually experienced by veterans.
One reason for the disparity is that the audit essentially represented a look into future doctor visits, while another VA data system assessed wait times by looking at the past, Matkovsky said.
The bottom line, though, he added, remains unchanged: Many veterans are still waiting too long for care.
"Nobody should wait 90 days for an appointment from when they want to be seen," he said.
Since Monday's release of average wait time data by VA headquarters officials in Washington, administrators at local VA medical centers have been questioning the announced audit results, saying they didn't jibe with internal data showing far shorter waits.
"Our numbers are significantly better than what was released," said Dr. Jeffrey Ryan, the associate chief of staff at the Jesse Brown VA Medical Center in Chicago. The audit had pegged average wait times there for new primary care patients at 41 days. Ryan said the real wait was a fraction of that, typically just a day or two.
Beth Brown, director of the Louis A. Johnson VA Medical Center in Clarksburg, W.Va., said her most recent batch of data for April showed new patients waiting an average of eight days for primary care, 21 days to see a specialist and 11 days for mental health services. The audit had entirely different numbers: 54 days for primary care, 86 days for a specialist and 96 days for mental health services.