VA Needs To Improve Its Quality Assurance Program for Medical Supply and Equipment Items

PLRD-82-44: Published: Feb 23, 1982. Publicly Released: Feb 23, 1982.

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The Veterans Administration (VA) Marketing Center is a national purchasing activity, providing VA medical centers an opportunity to obtain supplies and equipment through a centrally managed national depot distribution system. GAO reviewed the Marketing Center to assess the adequacy of the VA quality assurance program.

GAO found that the program does not consistently establish quality standards, nor does it have a dependable inspection program. Receiving inspections are limited to confirming quantities received and reporting apparent shipping damages. The contracting officers often request quality testing of specific items, but they do not have quality guidelines or procedures for selecting items or for defining the specific product characteristics that should be tested. Furthermore, the tests are incomplete. In addition, the Marketing Center has been using informal purchase descriptions, rather than detailed specifications, to obtain medical supply and equipment items. However, the descriptions have not been coordinated with the users and suppliers. By changing to purchase descriptions, VA eliminated many of the standards that were previously available to assure that the items purchased met medical center needs. VA believed that the use of purchase descriptions would result in the purchase of acceptable items from the commercial marketplace. To test quality, GAO applied a common sense usability approach. GAO found that items frequently were of poor quality or did not operate as intended. Surgical instruments had defects, such as cracks, pits, or rough edges, that could revent proper sterilization or did not met VA test standards. Patients' furniture had missing or broken parts and misaligned components. VA medical centers are aware of quality problems but are reluctant to report them because they believe the Marketing Center is indifferent to their needs.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Administrator of Veterans Affairs should direct the Assistant Deputy Administrator for Procurement and Supply to develop a quality assurance program that provides for dependable independent testing of products purchased for depot stock. GAO is not implying that each medical supply and equipment item purchased should be subjected to quality testing or that all items should be subjected to the same level of testing. However, procedures are needed to determine when testing is desirable, to identify what product characteristics require testing, and to ensure that tests conducted are properly controlled.

    Agency Affected: Veterans Administration

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Administrator of Veterans Affairs should direct the Assistant Deputy Administrator for Procurement and Supply to discontinue using purchase descriptions until they have been coordinated with users and suppliers and modified to provide for adequate quality control.

    Agency Affected: Veterans Administration

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Administrator of Veterans Affairs should direct the Assistant Deputy Administrator for Procurement and Supply to assign responsibiity for the quality complaint system to an entity that is independent from the marketing divisions and follow up to make sure that future medical center complaints are resolved promptly.

    Agency Affected: Veterans Administration

 

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