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VA hospital ratings now available online

If you're comparing hospitals, there are websites where you can get ratings for their quality of care. U.S News & World Report and other resources publish rankings on a regular basis.

However, health care quality data for hospitals run by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has not been as easily accessible. While the VA grades its 146 medical centers on a 5-point system, those ratings haven't been released to the public until recently.

The move to post these ratings on the VA website followed an investigation by USA TODAY that revealed these ratings, which are based on multiple factors, including infection rates, mortality rates and wait times. This decision to post the ratings, albeit without any fanfare, came despite VA Secretary Bob McDonald's objection to USA TODAY's publication of them because they could cause "unwarranted distress" to vets and prevent them from seeking needed care.

There are VA facilities across the country with rankings from 1 (the worst) to 5 (the best). However, McDonald asserts that "no VA medical facility is bad or failing." The information now being made public also indicates changes in ratings for each facility between the end of 2015 and June 2016.

A number of members of Congress have expressed approval that the ratings have finally been made public, allowing vets and their families to make more informed decisions and help Congress see which facilities require the most attention.

However, another representative noted that "it shouldn't take news reports and public pressure for the VA to make these ratings available to the public." VA officials had previously said that the ratings were intended to be used internally and weren't published because 1-star hospitals would be stigmatized.

So how do West Virginia's four VA hospital rate? Huntington VA Medical Center and Clarksburg's Louis A. Johnson VA Medical Center have a 4-star rating. Martinsburg VA Medical Center and Beckley VA Medical Center have a 3-star rating.

Obviously, this is important information to have. However, things can go wrong even at the best medical facilities. It's essential for patients and family members to get as much information about their treatments and procedures as possible and not hesitate to ask questions of the medical professionals responsible for their care.

Source: USA Today, "VA reverses course, releases health care quality data," Donovan Slack, Dec. 20, 2016

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