Teaching hospital alternatives for Veterans Health Administration facilities: A Google Maps proximity study

by Joseph Bernstein, Loren Mead

The United States Veterans Health Administration (VHA) serves more than 9 million enrolled Veterans each year. Although most of the care that the VHA sponsors is delivered within its own facilities, there has been a call for “privatizing” some or all of these services. Under such an arrangement, the Department of Veterans Affairs would pay non-VHA providers to deliver care in facilities open to the general public. Privatization is hotly contested on political grounds and is not resolved. Yet the question whether the VHA should be privatized cannot be resolved without first establishing that this policy change is even feasible. One potential obstacle to privatization would be the lack of nearby alternative facilities to deliver care. To assess for the presence of this impediment, we used Google Maps to measure the travel time between 167 VA hospitals and the teaching hospital nearest to each of them. We determined that the mean travel time between VA hospitals and their nearest teaching hospital was approximately 18 minutes with a median of 10 minutes. All but nine VA facilities were within two hours’ travel, and these nine within ten minutes’ travel to a tertiary care, nonteaching hospital. These data do not definitively resolve the privatization debate, of course, but do refute the assertion that inpatient VA services cannot be privatized because replacement hospitals are too far away. As shown, that is simply not the case.

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