Veteran wait times drop dramatically

Veteran wait times drop dramatically

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow)

Earlier this year a Veterans Affairs audit revealed the waiting time for a Hawaii military veteran to see a primary care physician was 145 days. The 50th state had the nation's longest waiting time. Not anymore.

"The latest number was 35 days," said Dr. Keith Novak.

Novak is lead doctor with the Veterans Affairs Pacific Islands Health Care System. He said the VA clinic increased the number of patients a physician manages from 1,200 to 1,350. It's based on several factors.

"How sick the patients are. How old they are. How often they are admitted to the hospital. How many support staff they have helping them take care of that patient. And how many rooms they have to see the patients in," Novak said.

Another change was recruiting more doctors.

"We increased the physicians by two over the past few months. And we have two more coming in," he said.

U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz calls the new 35-day wait "progress." But he wants it verified.

"We want to make sure that these data are accurate and what they're telling us is true. But if it is true this is a very encouraging start," he said.

In June, Hawaii Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard called for VA Pacific Islands director Wayne Pfeffer to resign. He asked for a chance to whittle down the waiting time.

"In her heart she wants leadership so that's why I want to explain. Give me the opportunity to prove my integrity," he said.

Novak said VA Pacific Islands also relieved its doctors of some administrative duties.

"We assigned that to other people that were supporting them. So it freed them up to see more patients and take care of patients," he said.

The number of patients on the electronic waiting list has also gone down from 1,800 to 37 as of this week. Schatz said Hawaii's VA needs to sustain this new success over time.

"We want to make sure that whatever systems changes they've made, whatever process changes, and whatever resource they need will enable this system to work over the long run, and we don't find ourselves six months from now where we were before," he said.

Novak said VA Pacific Islands goal is to get a veteran's first appointment with a doctor on the day they call for an appointment.

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