Veterans Affairs Department officials said that some 17,000 physicians and independent practitioners out of about 56,000 practicing within the system have triggered red flags under its electronic credentialing and privileging system and require further investigation as to whether they can continue to practice.
The admission came during a congressional hearing in Washington and months after the VAs internal tracking system found a sharp increase in the number of patient deaths at 115-bed Marion (Ill.) VA Medical Center. The VA has also sent a multidisciplinary assessment team to the medical center to review personnel practices and procedures.
On Aug. 10, the surgical director at the Marion facility was notified that the agency's National Surgical Quality Improvement Program had flagged the hospital because of the abnormal number of patient deaths. Three days later, Jose Veizaga-Mendez resigned from the facility after 10 patient deaths were linked to his care. Since then, five senior members of the facility have been reassigned and three more surgeons have had their privileges limited, according to VA officials who spoke at the hearing. The agencys inspector generals office is investigating the facility and declined to speak at the hearing.
VA officials defended the agencys credentialing system. The VA uses a standardized electronic program, called VetPro, but also uses a number of other flagging systems. Kathryn Enchelmayer, director of quality standards in the VA office of quality improvement, said the VAs system for checking credentials exceeds industry standards and likely is the envy of most of the healthcare industry. -- by Matthew DoBias
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