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A Qualitative Study of Primary Care Providers' Experiences with the Veterans Choice Program.

Nevedal AL, Wagner TH, Ellerbe LS, Asch SM, Koenig CJ. A Qualitative Study of Primary Care Providers' Experiences with the Veterans Choice Program. Journal of general internal medicine. 2019 Apr 1; 34(4):598-603.

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BACKGROUND: The Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act (hereafter, Choice Program) seeks to improve access to care by enabling eligible Veterans to receive care from community providers. Veterans Affairs (VA) primary care providers (PCPs) play a key role in making referrals to community specialists, but their frontline experiences with referrals are not well understood. OBJECTIVE: To understand VA PCPs' experiences referring patients to community specialists while VA works to expand and refine the implementation of the Choice Program. DESIGN: Qualitative study using interview methods. PARTICIPANTS: Semi-structured telephone interviews were conducted with VA primary care providers (N? = 72 out of 599 contacted) recruited nationally. APPROACH: Open-ended interview questions elicited PCP perceptions and experiences with referrals to community specialists via the Choice Program. Keywords were identified using automated coding features in ATLAS.ti and evaluated using conventional content analysis to inductively describe the qualitative data. KEY RESULTS: VA PCPs emphasized problems with care coordination and continuity between the VA and community specialists (e.g., "It is extremely difficult for us to obtain and continue continuity of care because there's not much communication with the community specialist"). They described difficulties with tracking the initial referral, coordinating care after receiving community specialty care, accessing community medical records, and aligning community specialists' prescriptions with the VA formulary. CONCLUSIONS: The VA Choice Program provides access to community specialists for VA patients; however, VA primary care providers face challenges tracking referrals to community specialists and in coordinating care. Strategies to improve care coordination between the VA and community providers should focus on providing PCPs with information to follow Veterans throughout the Choice referral process and follow-up.

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