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J Am Geriatr Soc. 2007 Oct;55(10):1645-9.

Increasing access and quality in Department of Veterans Affairs care at the end of life: a lesson in change.

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  • 1Department of Veterans Affairs, Veterans Health Administration, Office of Geriatrics and Extended Care, Washington, DC, USA.


The pursuit of a "good death" remains out of reach for many despite numerous piecemeal solutions to address the growing need for access to quality care at the end of life. In 2002, U.S. veteran deaths were at an all-time high, few Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) hospitals had inpatient palliative care services, and there was no reliable approach to meet home hospice needs. The VA embarked on a course of major change to improve veterans' care at the end of life. A coordinated plan to increase access to hospice and palliative care services was established, addressing policy development, program and staff development, collaboration with community hospices, outcomes measurement, and proving value to the organization. To determine progress and monitor resource allocation, workload and outcome measures were established in all settings. Within 3 years, the number of veterans receiving VA-paid home hospice had tripled, all VA hospitals had a palliative care team, 42% of all veterans who died as VA inpatients received a palliative care consultation, and a nationwide network of VA partnerships with community hospice agencies was established. Through a multifaceted strategic plan and a mission of honoring veterans' preferences for care at the end of life, the VA has made rapid progress in improved access to palliative care services for inpatients and outpatients. The VA's experience serves as a powerful example of the magnitude of change possible in a complex health system and a model for improving access and quality of palliative care services in other health systems.

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