What is Access? The physician (practitioner) Perspective (Part 2/3)

In this second blog we have focused on healthcare access from the physician perspective.

Speak to any physician around the nation and they will all agree that access to quality healthcare is among the most important issues they are facing right now.  Physicians are driven by a desire to provide the best care possible to their patients. While they are often seen as the “top” of the healthcare team, they often feel that they have little control over the day-to-day clinical operations. This can be especially true when it comes to patient phone calls and can be frustrating when the first half of each patient visit is spent discussing long wait times, delays in call backs and difficulty getting scheduled.

The role of physicians in improving patient access

Physicians are key to improving patient access in any healthcare organization.  The trick is to engage them and create a culture where they recognize that they can impact access and feel like they are part of the solution to ease patients’ journeys to accessing quality care.

That is often easier said than done. In our experience, physicians are often hesitant when discussions around their clinic schedules come up. This hesitancy to engage can result in loss of the physician perspective and cause tension between physicians and healthcare administrators—patient care vs seeing more patients to generate more revenue. In actuality, better patient care and increased patient visits go hand-in-hand with improved patient access.

We consulted with Dr. Jennifer Schmidt, Chief Medical Officer at RelateCare & Assistant Professor of Internal Medicine and clinical Medical Director at Washington University School of Medicine on this topic and she said: “Physicians are a key partner in developing improved patient access—they are the ones seeing the patients, living in the clinics and experiencing the day-to-day challenges of patient schedules.  Because of their ‘in the trenches’ perspective, they are uniquely poised to identify opportunities for improvement. They can champion changes as they are implemented and provide real-time feedback on unexpected consequences of change.”

Tips to improve patient access through physician engagement:

First, find a physician champion—someone working in the clinic who is excited about innovation.  Having someone ‘in the trenches’, actually doing the work they are asking their colleagues to do, will engage other physicians in the clinic.  Additionally, having a physician on the team to continuously represent the interests of clinic personnel will add credibility to any change management scenario.  Allowing for a direct pipeline for feedback will ensure physician voices are heard and considered throughout the process.

The first step in ensuring improved patient access lies in creation of an efficient, patient-centered template. Creating standard duration time blocks and minimizing visit types allows schedulers to quickly search for appointments.   Appointments can be scheduled more efficiently, and therefore calls handled faster when schedulers are able to reference standard guidelines for each clinic (rather than for each physician). Standardized, flexible rather than fixed, physician-specific, templates allow flexibility, increasing appointment options. Fewer visit types allow more freedom to the type of patients that can be seen in each time slot.

Standardized templates are one of the most difficult concepts for many physicians to buy-into – “How can I be expected to see more patients?”; Double booking makes me run behind”; “My patients are special. How can a scheduler know where to put them?”  —fitting into a standard template may seem uncomfortable and wrong.

Engaging physicians across different specialties can demonstrate that many clinics are more alike than different. Standard templates are, very much in line with physicians’ central cares—excellent patient care and clinical efficiency. These template changes allow physicians to see more patients while they are in clinic, improving productivity without adding more clinical sessions. Better patient care and better business.

We have found one of the most valuable exercises is to sit elbow-to-elbow with a physician and complete a time-in-motion exercise.  By documenting each moment of a physician’s day and mapping it out for them they can see where their inefficiencies lie within their daily workflow.  This time-in-motion study is more “data’ that showcases the barriers put up that impact access and patients’ overall dissatisfaction in being able to get care at the right time, with the right physician.

There is a lot that goes into creating a streamlined access model including templates.  This task ultimately falls on the shoulders of administrators in the c-suite of the organization as project sponsors.

In the next blog we will be reviewing what access means to administrators and what they are doing to help ensure patients have access to quality healthcare in the timeframe that works for them.


Are you interested in learning more about how RelateCare can help you optimize the access journey for patients in your organization?

Contact us to find out more: info@relatecare.com