If you have chronic migraines, it’s possible that you have lived with this problem for quite a while before noticing the migraines have gotten progressively worse and more frequent. You’ve come to the point where “enough is enough,” and you want to see a doctor. Depending on your health care plan, you may need to first schedule an appointment to see your general practitioner in order to get a referral to a specialist within your network. Then you will have to schedule an appointment to see the specialist. It could take months before you get the appropriate care and the necessary prescriptions to deal with this debilitating condition.
If you’re frustrated by the wait time — just remember — doctors and others in the health care industry are even more frustrated by the situation. So, what’s the problem?
The consequence of expanded health care
The Affordable Care Act (also known as Obamacare) has expanded people’s access to health care coverage. The law has enabled millions of Americans access to benefits they didn’t previously have. As a result, more areas are dealing with a doctor shortage as more patients seek medical care.
According to a study of appointments for commonly used specialty physicians, patients are waiting an average of 18 days to schedule an appointment for a doctor. The study looked at 15 major U.S. cities. Some of the results:
- Boston, MA with an average wait time of 45.4 days
- Denver, CO with an average wait time of 23.6 days
- Philadelphia, PA with an average wait time of 20.6 days
- Portland, OR with an average wait time of 19.4 days
- Minneapolis, MN with an average wait time of 19.2 days
A good economy carries its own baggage
Obamacare isn’t completely to blame. The improving economy is also encouraging more Americans to visit the doctor for the aches and pains that they put off during lean years. Data shows slow growth in visits to doctor’s office during a period of high unemployment.
The demand of doctors is simply outstripping the supply. For some patients the wait can take too long, and instead of a doctor’s waiting room, they end up in the ER. Coincidentally, the wait time at the ER has also increased.
Not all emergencies are the same
The average wait time to see a doctor in the ER, according to a 2009 report from the Government Accountability Office, is more than double the recommended time.
Why are you waiting? Some emergencies require and receive immediate care. People having heart attacks or facing other life-threatening injuries are seen by doctors as soon as they arrive at the hospital. It’s understandable. Everyone else needs to be patient.
Longer wait times are not always an indicator of worse care. Emergency rooms that see patients with behavioral problems like alcohol abuse may have much longer wait times. It can take hours for a patient to sober up enough to be safely discharged. And it slows down the whole system.
Patient management technology can help
Wait time, both in the doctor’s office and in the emergency room, requires industry-wide solutions. But the use of messaging systems, such as NetPage Unlimited, can potentially increase the number of patients a doctor sees in a day without creating an unnecessary burden. NetPage Unlimited is an on-location, organization-wide, web-based messaging program. A hospital or doctor’s office can send task assignments to staff members, notify patients about updates regarding their visit, schedule notifications, and track tasks to completion. The program can also manage multiple wait lists (such as initial check-up, doctor’s rounds, x-rays or other lab results). Then NetPage Unlimited can account for gaps in the schedule. In conjunction with a paging system, office managers can contact patients who aren’t immediately responding to their names being called or are in an area with poor cell reception.
When these issues are resolved, the office manager scheduling appointments might be able to squeeze in an extra patient or two each day. Seeing just one extra patient a day would lead to hundreds of more patients treated each year in a timely fashion. That increased efficiency will ultimately result in fewer headaches for everyone involved.
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Skip Cass is the chief executive officer at LRS and an expert in operational efficiency and creating a memorable guest experience.