Trends in the Purchase of Surgical Care in the Community by the Veterans Health Administration

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Abstract

Background:

The 2014 implementation of the Veterans Choice Program increased opportunities for Veterans to receive care in the community. Although surgical care is a Veterans Health Administration (VHA) priority, little is known about the types of surgeries provided in the VHA versus those referred to community care (CC), and whether Veterans are increasing their use of surgical care through CC with these additional opportunities.

Objectives:

To examine national trends across VHA facilities in the frequencies and types of surgeries provided in the VHA and through CC, and explore the association between facilities’ purchase of care with rurality and surgical complexity designation.

Research Design:

Retrospective study using Veterans Administration (VA) outpatient and CC data from the VA’s Corporate Data Warehouse (October 1, 2013–September 30, 2016).

Measures:

Veterans’ demographics, outpatient surgeries, facility rurality, and surgical complexity.

Results:

Our sample included 525,283 outpatient surgeries; 79% occurred in the VHA over the study timeframe. The proportion of CC surgeries increased from 16% in October 2013 to 29% in December 2014, and then subsequently declined, leveling off at 21% in June 2016 (trend, P<0.05). These trends varied by surgery type. Increases in CC surgeries were evident for 4 surgery types: cardiovascular, digestive, eye and ocular, and male genital surgeries (all trends, P<0.05). Rural and low-complexity facilities were more likely to purchase surgical CC than their urban and high-complexity counterparts (P<0.0001).

Conclusions:

Although the VHA remains the primary provider of surgical care for Veterans, Veterans Choice Program implementation increased Veterans’ use of CC relative to the VHA for certain types of surgeries, potentially bringing challenges to the VHA in delivering and coordinating surgical care across settings.

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