VA Needs to Do Better Credential Checks on Its Doctors, Report Finds

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Doctor entering patient notes on laptop in surgery

The Department of Veterans Affairs needs to do a better job of screening the credentials and licenses of doctors and nurses to "prevent disqualified providers from delivering patient care," according to the Government Accounting Office.

In a report Thursday, the GAO said that its review found instances in which the VA's Veterans Health Administration hired or retained ineligible providers, including physicians, nurses and dentists, "because hiring staff overlooked or missed disqualifying information in a national database."

In other cases, VHA officials "didn't know that providers with valid licenses were ineligible if they had surrendered a license or had one revoked in another state," the GAO report states.

In sum, the GAO said the VA and VHA should make better use of the wealth of information on providers in the National Practitioner Data Bank.

In some cases, "providers had administrative or other non-disqualifying adverse actions reported in the NPDB," but VHA still determined that they could be hired, the report states.

It cited the case of a doctor who had surrendered his physical-therapy license for failure to complete physical therapy continuing education.

"Although his license surrender resulted in an adverse action in [the data bank], VHA determined that there were no concerns about the provider's ability to perform as a physician," the report states.

In other cases, "VHA facilities overlooked or were unaware of the disqualifying adverse-action information in NPDB," it adds.

"For example, VHA officials told GAO that, in one case, they inadvertently overlooked a disqualifying adverse action and hired a nurse whose license had been revoked for patient neglect. This nurse resigned in May 2017," according to the report.

However, it notes that "the presence of an NPDB report does not automatically disqualify a provider from working at VHA. Each VHA facility has broad discretion in hiring providers."

The report states that VHA policy allows providers with adverse actions in NPDB to continue working "if the provider has at least one full, active, current, and unrestricted license, and does not have a license that is revoked or surrendered for cause."

The report cites the case of a practical nurse who began work at VHA in 2003 and continues to work there. In June 2015, one state revoked the nurse's license for failure to complete a required course, but VHA facility officials determined that the nurse had a valid license in another state and kept the employee on staff.

The VA concurred with the GAO's recommendations that VHA officials responsible for credentialing and hiring should receive periodic mandatory training, and also should conduct periodic reviews of providers who have had adverse actions reported in NPDB records.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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