In a recent television interview and various publications it has been reported that delays to Veterans receiving audiology services in VA for their hearing problem is the “number one issue” in current VA backlogs. That is incorrect.
Among Veterans currently waiting for VA medical care, audiology accounts for only 7.3 percent of the total of all new patients, and 1.4 percent of the total of all established patients waiting for an appointment.
In fiscal year (FY) 2015, the national average wait time for completed audiology appointments was 8.5 days from the preferred date for new patients, and 4.2 days from the preferred date for established patients.
VA has averaged a 7 percent increase in Veterans receiving audiology services and a 9 percent increase in the number of audiology appointments over the past year.
In FY 2015, 92 percent of audiology new patients (473,471 Veterans) were seen within 30 days of the Veterans’ preferred date to be seen. These were typically appointments for hearing exams.
Also in FY 2015, 97 percent of audiology established patients (1,416,658 Veterans) were seen within 30 days of the Veterans’ preferred date. These appointments were typically for hearing aid fittings, hearing aid follow ups, education classes and hearing aid repairs.
It’s important to note that 26 percent of new and established patients were seen in Audiology the same day they requested the appointment during FY15. That represents 512,327 out of the total 1,982,548 patients seen.
To effectively manage the demand for audiology services, VA has increased audiology staffing, expanded audiology sites of care and use of telehealth, and continued to increase the use of community care.
As of FY 2015, audiology services are provided at 491 VA sites of care. That’s an 8 percent increase from the previous year.
One of our most significant improvements is audiology telehealth. VA now provides this at 176 sites around the country. Our patient appointments for audiology telehealth in FY 2015 increased 46 percent from the previous year, a total of 23,561 appointments. Veterans like telehealth, and report their satisfaction and outcomes for telehealth appointments are as good as, or better than, traditional face-to-face appointments.
We have added personnel. From FY 2014 to FY 2015, the number of VA hearing health technicians increased 11 percent, and the number of audiologists increased 8 percent in the same period.
VA utilized community care audiology services for over 10,000 Veterans in FY 2015. We created 4,694 authorizations for audiology services for 4,524 Veterans under patient-centered community care and VA contractors created 6,525 authorizations for audiology services for 5,856 Veterans under the Choice Program.
VA continues to monitor timeliness statistics and wait times for audiology services across the country.
Veterans have earned and deserve the best medical care we can provide. VA Audiology Service is dedicated to this goal and is working hard every day to make even more improvments to our impressive record in providing these services to Veterans.
About the Author: Rachel McArdle, PhD, is the Director of the VHA Audiology and Speech Pathology National Program