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May 29, 2024
David Burda
Consumerism Outcomes System Dynamics

Patient Access Is Having a Moment

The “access” in “patient access” is different than the third leg of the Access-Cost-Quality healthcare stool people have been trying to balance since the dawn of modern medicine.

It’s not “Access” with a capital A. It’s lowercase “patient access,” like getting in to see your doctor, scheduling a medical test, viewing your medical record and finding out how much you owe the hospital before it pawns you off to a debt collection agency.

If you’ve tried to do any of these routine buyer-seller transactions during the past 20 years, you know how increasingly hard they are to do.

I first wrote about the topic in 2021 in, “Patient Stories from the Front Lines Tell of a Healthcare Capacity Problem.” In that piece, I described the plight of three people I know who were struggling to see a physician for their respective maladies. I followed up with my own patient story in 2022 with, “Health System Capacity Problems Hit Home,” when I described my attempt to schedule an appointment with an allergist. Earlier this month, I wrote about my travails to get an appointment with a dermatologist in, “A Relatively Short Anecdote About Patient Leakage.”

What I didn’t know when I started writing about this three years ago was that I was writing about patient access. As Dave Davies of The Kinks famously said, “It wasn’t called heavy metal when I invented it.”

Regardless of who invented patient access, it’s having a moment right now. Every hospital, health system and medical practice is talking about it. Every hospital, health system and medical practice is trying to fix it. Every health services researcher wants a grant to study it.

The question is why?

A new report from Accenture has a clue: patient loyalty. Strong access, strong loyalty. Weak access, weak loyalty. The report is based on a survey of more than 8,000 U.S. consumers age 18 or older. Here are the key results:

  • 89% of the respondents said the reason they switched or stopped seeing their previous provider was “ease of navigation.” A distant second at 44% was “clinical experience/expertise.”
  • 70% of the respondents cited “access” as the most important factor in picking a new provider. That included convenient location and hours and the ability to get an appointment quickly. Last on the list of drivers was “reputation/brand.”

The Accenture survey results echo the results of Rock Health’s Ninth Annual Consumer Adoption of Digital Health Survey released in March. The Rock Health report also is based on a survey of more than 8,000 U.S. adults age 18 or older. Asked why they chose a virtual care option over an in-person visit for care, the top two reasons were “greater convenience” at 39% and “shorter wait time” at 30%.

Consumers are forcing healthcare provider executives to take patient access seriously. I’m sure the execs’ own market research shows that consumers will walk into the arms of another provider if they can’t get what they want quickly. That is, if they’re not walking already. Assertive healthcare consumers are now a competitive threat.

That’s great, although it should irk consumers that no one cared how long they waited to see a medical specialist until poor patient access threatened their bottom lines.

Thanks for reading.

About the Author

David Burda

David Burda began covering healthcare in 1983 and hasn’t stopped since. Dave writes this monthly column “Burda on Healthcare,” contributes weekly blog posts, manages our weekly newsletter 4sight Friday, and hosts our weekly Roundup podcast. Dave believes that healthcare is a business like any other business, and customers — patients — are king. If you do what’s right for patients, good business results will follow.

Dave’s personnel experiences with the healthcare system both as a patient and family caregiver have shaped his point of view. It’s also been shaped by covering the industry for 40 years as a reporter and editor. He worked at Modern Healthcare for 25 years, the last 11 as editor.

Prior to Modern Healthcare, he did stints at the American Medical Record Association (now AHIMA) and the American Hospital Association. After Modern Healthcare, he wrote a monthly column for Twin Cities Business explaining healthcare trends to a business audience, and he developed and executed content marketing plans for leading healthcare corporations as the editorial director for healthcare strategies at MSP Communications.

When he’s not reading and writing about healthcare, Dave spends his time riding the trails of DuPage County, IL, on his bike, tending his vegetable garden and daydreaming about being a lobster fisherman in Maine. He lives in Wheaton, IL, with his lovely wife of 40 years and his three children, none of whom want to be journalists or lobster fishermen.

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