By Rebecca Chi, chief client experience officer, AristaMD.
Accessing specialty medical care shouldn’t be difficult, yet 27% of people in the U.S. wait one month or more to see healthcare specialists. A survey by AristaMD of four in-demand specialties – cardiology, dermatology, endocrinology, and gastroenterology, revealed that appointment wait times for some specialties exceed 90-days.
Endocrinology has an average wait period of 67 days, which surpasses the overall survey average by 19 days. Gastroenterology generally has more providers per clinic, yet still averages a 64-day wait time per provider and a 16-day increase from the overall average.
While these metrics reflect a broader trend of rising healthcare wait times across the country, the daily impact on individuals is cause for concern. Each day that patients wait to receive specialty care, the likelihood the appointment will be canceled, or the person will suffer additional medical complications rises. The time-lapse to see a specialist is lengthening in the U.S., but one solution is working to effectively combat the wait-time challenge – eConsults.
The Issue of Long Wait Times
While endocrinology and gastroenterology top the wait-per-provider by specialty, several states are experiencing higher-than-average wait times as compared to the rest of the nation. For example, Oregon has the most extreme wait times with an above-average wait time across cardiology, dermatology, endocrinology and gastroenterology. Specifically, the city of Portland ranks as having one of the highest appointment wait times in the country, averaging a total of two months to secure a patient appointment for an emergent condition. Additionally, areas such as Tacoma, Washington and Richmond, Virginia are seeing staggering appointment scheduling challenges with dermatology appointments booked 139 days out, which is 103-days greater than the specialty’s average.
Here are a few possible causes for the growing wait times to see healthcare specialists:
- Complicated referral process that delays appointment scheduling
- Shortage of specialists nationwide
- Poor distribution of specialists across the country
- Office staffing shortages
- Challenges finding a specialist who participates in health plan’s provider network
Regardless of the issue behind the rising delay in scheduling patients needing advice from a specialist, the outcomes are:
- Increasing health risks
- Driving patients to more expensive alternatives, like the emergency department
- Decreasing patient satisfaction
- Negatively impacting primary care physicians’ health plan star ratings
The Benefits of eConsults
As wait times continue to soar at healthcare clinics, there is a solution to reduce the impact of the shortage of available specialist appointments. With electronic physician-to-physician consultations, or eConsults, primary care physicians are empowered to provide specialist-guided care to patients – efficiently and effectively. All patients deserve timely, cost-effective access to healthcare, and eConsults are available to help reach this goal.
Electronic consultations are online medical consultations between physicians to communicate about a patient’s current symptoms, possible diagnosis and appropriate treatment plan with the benefit of the expertise of a physician specialist. This collaboration between primary care providers and specialists not only improves the patient experience but also optimizes clinical revenue, offers rapid access to specialty care and reduces routine clinical referrals by 70 percent. Instead of sending patients to find a specialist who participates in their health plan’s provider network, primary care physicians can reach out to specialists and get back to their patients within hours with the next steps in their treatment plan. A process that required multiple trips to the specialist’s office and traditionally spanned months is completed within hours.
It’s time to challenge the status quo against unprecedented healthcare wait times with a solution that advocates for timely patient care and less unnecessary face-to-face referrals and repeated diagnostics. eConsults can connect primary care physicians to specialists to decrease wait times, expand care capacity, and improve quality ratings. With the average wait per specialty provider growing, physicians can take the issue into their own hands and meet patients’ needs in the primary care setting.