Each year, the Department of Veterans Affairs collects data on the quality of medical services at its 153 hospitals nationwide. The annual report card is posted at VA.gov, and now at data.gov.
Doctor Robert Petzel, Under Secretary for Health at VA, told Federal News Radio the data is collected for two reasons. “One,” said Petzel, “is that we use this information to improve the way we do our business. That’s the fundamentally important thing about this.”
And then there’s the ability to use the data outside the department.
We need to be transparent. We need to be sure that our patients, the public, Congress, everybody sees our performance. We need to be very transparent, so that they trust that we’re being straightforward with them, so that our patients trust that we are actually telling them how we are doing and this is the real picture of the quality of care within the VA.
Petzel said while the data is reported once a year, it’s collected on a monthly and quarterly basis, then used in a quarterly fashion to hold facility directors accountable.
It’s made available to the entire system so that everyone can see who needs to improve in which areas, “and you’d be surprised,” sais Petzel, “how little interest there is in being the last person on that list.”
Once the data is opened up and posted where the public has access to it, admitted Petzel, there’s a flaw in the process.
I’ll be very candid with you: I think it’s a little bit difficult to interpret this stuff on data.gov if you don’t have a little bit of a sophisticated understanding of medicine and medical practice. And I think one of the challenges that we have is to make this data understandable by the people who use our system and the people who are interested in looking at how our system performs that are outside of medicine. The medical community understands what we’re saying in this report, I think, quite well.
Petzel said while the accessibility of the data works, understanding it is “a definite issue for us, and that is making this stuff as simple and understandable as we possibly can and we are continuously working on doing that.”
Tom Temin is the host of The Federal Drive, which airs from 6-9 a.m. on 1500 AM in the Washington, DC region and online everywhere. Tom has 30 years experience in journalism, mostly in technology markets. Before coming to Federal News Radio, he was a long-serving editor-in-chief of Government Computer News and Washington Technology magazines.