What are the Consequences of Waiting for Health Care in the Veteran Population?

The long-term health of older veterans suffers when they wait for health services.

The expansion of health insurance in the general population will almost certainly increase the time patients must wait to receive health care. Yet, there has been little research into the effects of wait times on either the use of services or health outcomes.

The Veterans Health Administration (VA) is often overloaded with requests for health care appointments. In 1999, at the request of Congress, the VA began monitoring wait times; since then wait times have dropped significantly.

The VA is a test case for the effects of appointment wait times. Several studies have investigated whether the use of VA health services or the health of veterans can be attributed to waiting for health services. This article presents a narrative review that condenses the current literature on VA wait times, use of services, and outcomes.

  • A study by Prentice, et al., found that diabetes patients were 2 percent to 4 percent less likely to use VA primary care when wait times increased three weeks.
  • When visiting facilities with longer wait times, veterans aged 70 to 74 were almost 10 percent more likely to have a stroke.
  • At around 30 days of wait time geriatric patients experienced higher mortality rates and hospitalization; this study examined 46 different outpatient appointment types.

This article reviews findings in the literature on the effects of VA wait times on the use of services and veterans’ health outcomes. Longer wait times pose an ominous risk to older veterans. The findings are of particular interest given that the expansion of health insurance in the overall population will likely increase wait times.