By Rebecca Chi, Chief Client Experience Officer, AristaMD.
Accessing specialized medical care shouldn’t be difficult, yet 27% of people in the US wait a 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 time of 67 days, which is 19 days higher than the overall study average. Gastroenterology generally has more providers per clinic, yet there is an average wait time of 64 days per provider and an increase of 16 days from the overall average.
While these statistics 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 for special care, the likelihood of the appointment being canceled or of the person developing additional medical complications increases. The time frame to see a specialist is getting longer in the US, but one solution is working to combat the waiting time challenge effectively: eConsults.
The problem of long waiting times
While endocrinology and gastroenterology top the list by specialty, several states experience higher-than-average wait times compared to the rest of the nation. Oregon, for example, has the most extreme wait times with an above-average wait time for cardiology, dermatology, endocrinology, and gastroenterology. Specifically, the city of Portland has one of the highest appointment wait times in the country, averaging two months in total to make a patient appointment for an emerging condition. In addition, areas such as Tacoma, Washington and Richmond, Virginia face dizzying challenges in scheduling appointments with dermatology appointments booked for 139 days, which is 103 days more than the specialty average.
Here are a few possible causes for the growing wait times to see healthcare specialists:
- Complicated referral process that slows down appointment scheduling
- National shortage of specialists
- Poor distribution of specialists across the country
- Staff shortages in the office
- Challenges in finding a specialist who joins the network of healthcare providers
Regardless of the problem behind the increasing delay in scheduling patients to seek specialist advice, the results are:
- Increasing health risks
- Sending patients to more expensive alternatives, such as the emergency department
- Declining patient satisfaction
- Negative impact on health care GPs star ratings
The benefits of eConsults
As waiting times in healthcare clinics continue to rise, there is a solution to reduce the impact of the shortage of available specialist appointments. With electronic doctor-to-doctor consultations, or eConsults, general practitioners are able to provide specialist care to patients in an efficient and effective way. All patients deserve timely, cost-effective access to healthcare and eConsults are available to help achieve this goal.
Electronic consultations are online medical consultations between doctors to communicate with the expertise of a physician specialist about a patient’s current symptoms, a possible diagnosis and an appropriate treatment plan. This collaboration between primary care providers and specialists not only improves the patient experience, but also optimizes clinical revenue, provides rapid access to specialized care and reduces routine clinical referrals by 70 percent. Instead of sending patients to find a specialist who joins their care plan provider network, primary care physicians can reach out to specialists and contact 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 took months is completed in a matter of hours.
It’s time to challenge the status quo against unprecedented wait times in healthcare with a solution that advocates timely patient care and fewer unnecessary personal referrals and repeat diagnostics. eConsults can connect primary care physicians with specialists to reduce waiting times, expand care capacity and improve quality assessments. With the average wait time per specialist provider increasing, doctors can take matters into their own hands and meet the needs of patients in primary care.