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July 6, 2015

IOM: Wait times are too long, and here's how to fix it.

Daily Briefing

Access to care issues persist in the United States, in part because of an appointment scheduling system that prioritizes providers over patients, according to a recent Institute of Medicine (IOM) report.

The report—entitled "Transforming Health Care Scheduling and Access: Getting to Now"— is a follow-up to a 2001 IOM report that noted six characteristics of high-quality health care:

  • Effectiveness;
  • Efficiency;
  • Equity;
  • Patient-centeredness
  • Safety; and
  • Timeliness.

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The new report found that, of those traits, "timeliness is in some ways the least well studied and understood," even though care delays can have significant consequences for patients with cancer, diabetes, joint problems, kidney disease, mental health issues, and substance use disorders.

Wait time problems, solutions

The authors wrote, "The health care system currently reflects mainly the priorities of providers and organizations," which "has resulted in a focus on traditional scheduling systems that have not been engineered to engage or satisfy patients, but that instead are designed to fit a staff schedule that may be poorly aligned with patient perspectives or circumstances."

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To reduce wait times, the report recommends that providers:

  • Continuously monitor and realign supply and demand;
  • Employ contingency plans to be able to accommodate a surge in demand and ensure timely access to care;
  • Focus on patient timing preferences and their needs when scheduling treatment; and
  • Offer patients alternatives to doctor's office visits, including consulting non-physician clinicians via telephone.

"Contrary to the notion that same-day service is not achievable in most sites, same-day options have been successfully employed through a variety of strategies," IOM notes in a release.

IOM President Victor Dzau says that implementing such strategies will require leadership at the national and individual provider levels. He adds, "Although a lack of available scientific evidence hinders establishing specific standards for scheduling and wait times, systems strategies and case studies can help guide successful practices until more research is completed" (Robzenieks, Modern Healthcare, 6/30 [subscription required]; Elizabeth Dallas, HealthDay/U.S. News & World Report, 6/29; Brooks, Medscape, 6/29).

The takeaway: According to a new IOM report, providers should employ several strategies to reduce wait times, including better aligning scheduling systems with patients' priorities and needs.

Help your patients find you with HealthPost

Everything your patients do is online—from booking an airline ticket to shopping for groceries. Shouldn’t scheduling a doctor’s appointment be just as easy?

Watch our video to see how HealthPost makes online scheduling convenient for both patients and providers. You can link the scheduling portal to your hospital homepage and other consumer health websites, making it easy for patients to find you. Patients can also quickly schedule appointments in real time across the entire outpatient network based on specialty, insurance, location, and more.


More from today's Daily Briefing
  1. Current ArticleIOM: Wait times are too long, and here's how to fix it.

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