VA Health Care:

Telephone Service Should Be More Accessible to Patients

HRD-91-110: Published: Jul 31, 1991. Publicly Released: Jul 31, 1991.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO identified ways in which Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) medical centers can decrease the amount of time nurses spend on nonclinical activities, focusing on benefits of providing telephone service to patients in their rooms.

GAO found that: (1) with few exceptions, VA medical centers do not provide telephones in patients' rooms; (2) telephone service in the patients' rooms increases the nursing time available for direct patient care and enhances the quality of life for patients; (3) assisting patients with telephone calls is one of the primary nonclinical tasks that adversely affect nurse productivity; (4) VA can procure telephone equipment and services with appropriated funds but has not done so because of the substantial cost involved; and (5) alternatives for funding telephone services include requesting appropriated funds for installing telephone equipment in medical centers and requesting concurrent authority to charge fees to recoup service costs, seeking financial or equipment assistance from private-sector organizations, and charging patients for telephone services.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: VA did not develop a formal written plan for providing telephone access at all VA medical centers; however, as of May 14, 1996, it had completed installation of bedside telephones in 126 of its medical centers. Installation of telephones in the remaining medical centers is expected to be completed by late 1996.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Veterans Affairs should develop and implement a plan to provide telephone service in patients' rooms in VA hospitals.

    Agency Affected: Department of Veterans Affairs


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