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60% of Orgs Use Tools to Monitor Patient Wait Times, Appointments

A recent MGMA poll showed that more healthcare organizations are working to manage and improve patient wait times for appointments.

patient wait times appointments

Source: Thinkstock

By Sara Heath

- Most healthcare organizations are using wait lists to keep track of growing patient wait times, highlighting some effort to understand the issue, according to a recent MGMA Stat Poll.

The survey of 1,300 organization leaders found that 61 percent of providers have some type of system in place to keep track of a patient wait list. Some of these systems include digital wait lists that are tethered to the organization’s EHR. Other organizations use simple paper lists to help keep track of wait times.

Another 29 percent of organizations do not use a patient wait list, but most say they can offer an appointment within the say day, or at least within two to three days.

Seven percent of organizations said they are considering adopting a patient wait list system, and 3 percent said they do not know if they use a patient wait list.

These findings are notable as healthcare organizations continue to grapple with patient care access and wait time issues.

A 2017 MGMA DataDive found that patients wait about six days for the third next-available primary care appointment. Wait times are similar in specialty care, the 2017 MGMA report revealed.

Separate reports corroborate those findings. A 2017 report from Merritt Hawkins found that the wait time for new-patient physician appointments in mid-sized markets is 32 days. Wait times are 38 percent longer than the average in large metro areas, the report revealed.

Healthcare organizations are working to integrate strategies to monitor and reduce patient wait times, according to an accompanying post from MGMA Principal Consultant Pamela Ballou-Nelson, RN, MSPH, CMPE, PhD.

Many organizations are adopting the patient-centered medical home (PCMH) model, which requires organizations to reserve at least 30 percent of their daily appointments for same-day appointments.

Other providers are using EHR technology to send automated reminders to patients to book their wellness and preventive care visits. While some systems push messages out via the patient portal, others will send automated phone calls or text messages to reach patients more conveniently.

Regardless of the mechanism a healthcare organization uses to address wait times, each should follow a certain set of protocol to ensure wait times are managed effectively, Ballou-Nelson said.

For example, organizations should begin pulling patients off the wait list by clinical priority. This will require the organization to solicit important clinical data from patients when adding them to the wait list. Additionally, it will require organizations to educate patients about the symptoms that warrant emergency care.

Patients with similar clinical needs should be seen on a first-come-first-serve basis, Ballou-Nelson said.

And while patients are waiting for their appointments, organizations need to offer clear instructions to patients for status updates. A patient may have obtained an appointment somewhere else or seen a change in their clinical needs. In both cases the provider must know so they can adjust their wait lists accordingly.

Conversely, organizations must offer transparent updates to patients while they are on the waiting list. Updates may help mitigate some of the frustration and confusion patients experience while on the wait list.

Furthermore, directing patients to alternative treatment facilities or referring to other appropriate providers could help reduce wait times.

Reducing patient wait times is an important patient experience issue, Ballou-Nelson said. Patient conditions may worsen while waiting for care, especially when a patient does not have adequate wait list updates or information about seeking emergency care.

Additionally, long patient wait times can detract from the overall patient experience by causing undue distress and frustration.

As healthcare organizations continue to emphasize better patient access to care and better overall care experiences, it will be essential for them to leverage tools that both reduce patient wait times and manage patient relationships when there is a longer wait time.

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