By Janet Hurley, MD
One of the greatest challenges for family medicine practices today is the risk of alternative treatment options for our patients. The last decade saw the uptick of retail health centers and urgent care centers, designed to provide convenient, fast access to acute care services at times when patients want it. Smart practices have created same day access models and extended hours to reduce this risk to their practice. The next decade will see the emergence of telehealth services, such as virtual office visits, secure videoconferencing, secure email access, and online scheduling. How family physicians approach these challenges will determine their financial success heading into the future. Will they provide convenient access portals for their patients, or will they retain the “Castle and the Moat” thinking prevalent in many practices today?
In my leadership roles as chair of my organization’s customer service committee, and Operational Chief for Primary Care, I have had access to secret shopper reports, customer service survey results, and post visit survey results that give me exposure to the tangled web of access hurdles many patients experience as they try to obtain care. I have also had direct access to our consultants and executive leadership, and have had engaged discussions with experts in this field. When surveyed, most of our patients say they have very good opinions of their nurses, doctors, and staff, but some had much difficulty scheduling appointments and getting answers to questions over the phone. They dislike voicemail, and they don’t want to wait too long for their appointment. In essence, many practices have provided a quality “country club” experience to patients once they enter the facility, but there is a perceived selection process about who may enter. It would seem our “moat” needs more bridges.more