VA tests partnership with CVS to reduce veterans' wait times

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Almost 120,000 veterans who are enrolled at the Phoenix VA can now used the minute clinic at CVS Pharmacies.

And Tobias Barker, the chief medical officer of CVS MinuteClinic, told the AP he hopes the new program can be one of several solutions to providing medical care to America's veterans. For now, the program is limited to the Phoenix area, where VA facilities treat about 120,000 veterans.

Even under the popular VA Choice program, which allows qualifying veterans to seek appointments with non-VA providers when VA physicians are unavailable, patients wait an average of 24 days to receive care.

Nonetheless, he has expressed his desire to have a broader collaboration primarily between the VA and the private sector. But, he wants the VA to handle all scheduling and "customer service" - something that veterans groups generally support but government auditors caution could prove unwieldy and expensive.

That proposal is due out by fall.

The MinuteClinic partnership may allow veterans to access care much more quickly through the VA referral hotline. In a recent survey conducted by the VA, only 61 percent of veterans said they could get a medical appointment for primary care when they needed one.

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In 2014, then-VA Secretary Eric Shinseki resigned after it was revealed that officials in Phoenix falsified reports about the wait times veterans faced at VA clinics.

Patients can call the regional VA medical center to get a referral to a MinuteClinic location, CVS said.

Despite a heavy spotlight on its problems, the Phoenix facility still grapples with delays.

The list shows veterans in the Texas panhandle still wait nearly two months before they can get their first appointment with a primary care doctor. Maureen McCarthy, the Phoenix VA's chief of staff also pointed out at an impending challenge of being able to offer flawless coordination to avoid gaps in care.

The VA previously experimented with a similar program a year ago in the smaller market of Palo Alto, a $330,000 pilot to provide urgent care at 14 MinuteClinics.

CVS, the biggest player in pharmacy retail clinics, operates more than 1,100 of them in 33 states and the District of Columbia. "We're looking forward to working with the Phoenix VA Health Care System team to ensure that their patients have additional options for high-quality acute care at times and locations that are convenient for them".

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