Weighing in on Wait Times: The Merritt Hawkins Wait Times Survey

I have worked in and around private medical practices for the past 27 years — I started young. And even with the extensive knowledge and connections that I have, I have trouble navigating my own healthcare needs, often feeling stuck in the middle between specialists that don’t or simply won’t communicate and have difficulty scheduling appointments in a timely manner.

Here in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, we are lucky enough to have many physicians to choose from in most specialties. This fact is apparent in the recent study, the 2017 Survey of Physician Appointment Wait Times, performed by Merritt Hawkins (a Coppell, Texas-based healthcare consulting company), relating to how long patients must wait for new appointments. Our area fares among the best in the country for those that were surveyed. Several area have to wait far longer. However, even for us, the more specialized the provider, the longer we must wait.

Not long ago, my family practice doctor suggested that I visit an endocrinologist. The group that he referred me to could not accept a new patient appointment for three months. I went ahead and scheduled an appointment, but also started calling other endocrinologists in the area. After calling a handful, I was able to schedule an appointment in seven days. My next task was to call and cancel my appointment with the endocrinologist with the three-month wait time. No problem there; this seemed to be a common occurrence for them.

Ultimately, I received the timely care that I needed. But this is not always the case for everyone.

People focus on patient wait times because it is so frustrating – and because they’ve probably had personal experience with them. There are many contributing factors and consequences that aren’t always discussed.

Most busy medical practices do not have the ability to effectively manage excess new patient demand. What happens to the patients who have to wait too long to get an appointment? The best-case scenario is that they receive their medical care at another clinic of the same specialty, maybe just down the street from them or at a competitor’s facility. These can also be the patients who end up having no choice but to seek help through our emergency room departments. Or even worse, they receive no care at all.

With patients living longer and requiring more services, an uptick in people with health insurance the last few years, and the current doctor shortage that looks to be getting more challenging in the future, new and inventive solutions are going to be required to make sure wait times don’t get too weighty and compromise access and quality of healthcare.

Opargo’s answer is not only to tackle this pervasive issue at the front of the process in prioritizing provider preferences and then optimizing schedules accordingly – so the right person sees the right physician at the right time. We’re also using big data and predictive analytics to make sure practices and health centers are as efficient as possible and physicians and staffs are doing what they do best – taking care of patients – and staying “the right kind of busy.”

That way providers are more effective, wait times are reduced, and patients are receiving higher quality care.

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