How Physicians Can Reduce Patient Wait Times
"Specialty practices in the future will be asked to be much more coordinated and streamlined with whoever else is the primary care physician of the patient," says Roland Goertz, MD, AAFP's president. "The whole system, to be efficient, is going to have to change."
Goertz predicts the following four changes will take place to accommodate the patient influx:
- The adoption of modern tools such as electronic health records (EHR)
- Use of creative and innovative scheduling models
- Designing the hours of the practice to better accommodate patient need
- Focusing more attention on quality measurements such as patient demographics
For example, the Waco (TX) Family Practice Center has expanded its reach by implementing EHRs at 13 sites, says Goertz, who for the past 12 years has acted as CEO of the three foundations that oversee the clinic. EHRs are more efficient than paperwork in terms of communication and data processing, he says. If clinics can speed up communications, they can speed up care delivery.
Healthcare is an industry accustomed to steady growth. But under healthcare reform, the traditional model for care delivery will need to transform—and fast.
Although every patient wants to see his or her doctor face-to-face, many practices are now adopting a team approach to care using group clinics, patient education, and the support system of pharmacists, nurses, nutritionists, and specialists.
David Winters, MD, board chair of the HealthTexas Provider Network, which is composed of more than 470 physicians, admits that he is concerned about the expected onslaught of patients due to healthcare reform and meeting those demands. As a solution, nurses and physician assistants are being asked to step up and perform more procedures when doctors don't have time, he says.
"Those [practices] that do not use midlevels are going to have more of a problem expanding," says Winters. "As reimbursements go down, some physicians will adapt and some will retire early. We worry about wait times in Texas."
The average wait times to see a physician through the Dallas-based HealthTexas Provider Network is anywhere from six weeks to three months, says Winters.
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