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Barriers to care access and how to address them through your practice’s digital front door


Supplying appropriate and accurate information online is the first step in building trust with patients.

online doctor consultation: © lulu877 - stock.adobe.com

© lulu877 - stock.adobe.com

Eliminating barriers to health care is easier said than done, and doing it as a primary care provider is even more difficult. Primary care practitioners already don’t have enough time in the day to complete their work. Every minute spent on patients is critical for practices, yet burdensome administrative tasks continue to consume countless staff hours. Since no primary care provider or their supporting staff gets 27 hours in a day, it’s essential that patients have comprehensive and streamlined access to their care. And that starts at the digital front door.

According to the Kyruus Care Access Benchmark Report, 61% say when selecting a new provider, service, or location, it is extremely or very important that they offer online appointment scheduling. This is up nearly 20 percentage points in the last two years. But just being able to schedule the appointment isn’t enough – patients also need accurate and reliable information. The Kyruus report also found that 69% of patients wanted more accurate provider information.

In the ever-evolving landscape of modern health care, the concept of care access has become crucial. This goes beyond self-scheduling. It encapsulates the ability of patients to seamlessly navigate the complex web of health care services, whether through online channels, phone calls, or in-person interactions. While ensuring an easy path to care is an ongoing challenge, here are some solutions for eliminating barriers at a practice’s digital front door.

Paul Merrild 

Paul Merrild

Navigating care literacy

Health care literacy is the cornerstone of patient empowerment, but navigating it is daunting for most. Given that 71% of consumers consult the internet when searching for a new health care provider, service or location, the need for easily accessible tools that provide appropriate and accurate health information must be a top priority. Basic information is often the most overlooked – is a patient’s insurance accepted? Can a patient identify with the provider, whether that takes into account the patient's preferences of gender or race? Keeping this information up to date goes a long way in building patient trust. In fact, according to the Kyruus survey, 77% of consumers agree that finding inaccurate provider information on these platforms impacts their trust.

For larger health care organizations and medical groups, employing innovative tools like chatbots and virtual assistants can guide patients through the process of finding and scheduling care. These digital aids not only enhance health care literacy but can also simplify the patient journey.

High-tech solutions are not the only path to pursue. It's vital to recognize that digital literacy varies among patients. While many can access health care services digitally, a significant portion – 40% – still prefer to schedule appointments over the phone. The Kyruus report also found that while 92% of Millennials are willing to schedule an appointment online, only 61% of Baby Boomers said they would do the same. Neglecting these offline patients can exacerbate health care barriers. Ensuring a digital front door is more than a website is critical. It must be a multichannel approach that caters to both digital-savvy and more traditional patients.

The need for transparent and accessible information

Patient care access requires a multichannel approach. However, as more prospective patients search for care options online, online scheduling options prove to be a compelling selling point for provider selection. Northeast Georgia Health System recently switched to a self-scheduling option – now, 75% of new patients book appointments online, signaling a big change prior to implementing the online tool.

Underpinning the benefits of self-scheduling is the demand for more robust, accurate provider information, leading patients to the best care possible. A lack of up-to-date, comprehensive data can become a formidable barrier, leading to patient-provider mismatches, delays in care, and further administrative burdens for both patients and providers.

Patients have diverse needs – gender orientation, religious views, sexual preferences, and more. Information about providers who understand individual and evolving patient needs should be readily available to ensure inclusivity and eliminate potential barriers.

Doing the right thing for the patient necessitates the free and open exchange of information across vendors and care settings, along with parties interested in solving problems. The best way to do that is by ensuring your existing access strategy integrates with your existing systems. Closed ecosystems hinder the flow of this essential data.

Health plan access channels

Patients don’t always go to the source when searching for care; they often turn to their health plan’s website to find information about in-network providers and expected out-of-pocket costs, so this data must be accurate.

Patients deserve to know the cost of care, and a concerning 44% of patients have avoided health care services due to not knowing how much their care will cost. Ensuring patients can access this information upfront can break down a significant barrier to care.

To make sure a primary care practice is visible, syndicate physician data and other services to health plan directories. This is an effective means of making practices discoverable. When combined with the recently developed price transparency tools, this can be a powerful means of eliminating barriers to access.

Capacity and operational efficiency

The speed at which primary care practices can accommodate patient requests for appointments is a pivotal metric. Extended wait times and administrative bottlenecks can become additional barriers to care. Patients who call in only to discover that their insurance isn't accepted or a doctor doesn’t speak their language not only lead to frustration but waste valuable time and resources.

Connecting patients with the right providers is vital. Tailoring care to a patient's unique needs and preferences benefits the patient and allows providers to practice at the top of their licenses. Care access platforms can intelligently route patients to the most suitable providers, optimizing resources and ensuring patients promptly receive the required care.

In an era where every minute counts, the digitization and automation of administrative tasks is a game-changer. From check-ins to previsit paperwork and copay collection, self-service options reduce the administrative burden on staff and providers, freeing them to focus on delivering care. This not only enhances operational efficiency but also improves provider availability for patients by freeing physicians and other clinicians to see patients most suited to their profiles and specialties. By removing administrative tasks from front desks, workers can allocate their time to issues requiring more attention, benefiting both the practice and its patients.

In closing

Eliminating barriers to care is an ever-evolving challenge. For primary care providers, improving and maintaining a digital front door can significantly increase a patient’s ability to receive care and, more importantly – receive the right care.Doing this empowers patients and ensures their care is effective and efficient while eliminating burdens on primary care practices.

Paul Merrild is president of Kyruus, the leader in provider search and scheduling solutions for health care organizations. He leads growing and scaling the company’s core business operations, including health plans, health systems, clinical, and product development.

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