A friend of mine had a very timely – and telling – prayer request at church the other day. She asked the Lord to help those in need of doctor’s appointments make them in a timely manner, both in terms of receiving care soon, and getting face time with a doctor before insurance deductibles roll over or cancelled policies end. It’s a prayer I’m sure many patients have been uttering just before they pick up the phone to see when their doctor’s next available appointment is; one that is all the more urgent for those with chronic conditions.
I have based past decisions on which new doctor to use based on their window of open appointments. Can’t see me for three weeks? Then you don’t get my business. Time is of the essence in healthcare these days. Patients want doctors’ time, and doctors don’t seem to have enough to go around. (Nor do they feel adequately compensated for it.) Healthcare IT – patient portals, CPOE, natural-language processing systems, etc. – is certainly playing a role in helping doctors and ancillary staff get back some of that time. (Though many doctors contend entering data into EMRs is eating up a lot of that time savings.)
Some have postulated that healthcare IT, particularly digital health tools, will actually cause us to need doctors less. This counters the notion that we will soon see (if we aren’t already) a physician shortage, and an even greater lack of appointment availability thanks to the 27 million newly insured who will take advantage of their new policies in 2014. I’m not quite convinced that digital health devices and apps will cause me to go to the doctor any less. They may make the waiting in between my appointments less anxiety inducing, but I know myself too well to think I’d ever scale back on face time with my doctor. Perhaps those with chronic conditions feel differently. I’d be open to telemedicine and virtual visits, but those don’t seem to be on the radar of providers in my area.
Healthcare IT can certainly save time and improve access to care, but I don’t see how it can convince people to enter the healthcare field, which is where the true appointment availability problem seems to stem from. As a recent article at HealthcareFinanceNews.com points out, “retirement age physicians outnumber young members entering the ranks; over-worked physicians want to reduce their hours and care for fewer patients; and [there is a] general disenchantment with the state of healthcare.”
It’s a sad state of affairs when put that way. So what’s the answer? How can the healthcare industry – healthcare IT in particular - work to ensure that prayers for timely appointment availability are no longer routine? Feel free to share your ideas in the comments below.