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Patients want physicians to answer quickly when calling at ‘the digital front door’


Survey examines yearly evolution of patient, doctor feelings on access to care.

digital health concept art: © greenbutterfly - stock.adobe.com

© greenbutterfly - stock.adobe.com

Patients want shorter wait times to see their physicians, cost estimates before care, and an easy way to pay their doctors.

Experian Health, part of the global information and financial services company, published “The State of Patient Access: The Digital Front Door,” its 2023 report to examine how patients and physicians coordinate appointments – or don’t – before meeting in the examination room.

After the COVID-19 pandemic, patients and physicians generally agree on the importance of digital and in-person availability. But physicians said staffing is a top challenge this year.

“The pandemic accelerated the use of technology and digital services at an unprecedented pace – which is a positive step forward – but it also created high expectations from patients that providers are struggling to keep up with as they return to business as usual,” Clarissa Riggins, Experian Health chief product officer, said in a news release.

“The survey results indicate that focusing on and expanding digital services is a challenge for providers, with new issues seemingly always around the corner that divert their efforts,” Riggins said. “But the findings also demonstrate that they understand the importance and benefits of an easy and seamless digital experience. Hopefully, we’ll see an ongoing focus on delivering these services for the long-term.”

“Patient access” encompasses a number of services that create a “digital front door” to a medical practice, the Experian report said. Those include appointment scheduling; pre-registration and registration; coverage verification and cost estimates; pre-care payments; and patient communications.

Those need to happen quickly. In the survey, 78% of patients said seeing a doctor or practitioner quickly was a top issue; it was the third year in a row for that rating. Wait times were followed by finding appointment times that fit personal schedules (49%) and the scheduling process (40%).

For physicians, 87% said staffing shortages affecting services levels are the greatest challenge this year, followed by pandemic-caused confusion (64%) and cost estimates (63%).

Even with those factors, 17% of patients said accessing health care got better in the last year; 62% reported no change, and 21% said it was worse.

Physicians were less rosy: 27% said access was better, 25% said it was the same, and 47% said it got worse in the last 12 months.

“Calling the patient access experience ‘the same’ following unprecedented pandemic chaos is a sign that more work is needed and ‘worse’ is troubling since much effort and budget have been spent to make improvements,” the Experian report said.

Patients and doctors generally agreed on the importance of electronic access, with 76% of patients wanting to schedule appointments online or by mobile phone, and 69% of physicians saying digital or mobile access is very important to patients.

Knowing the cost going in is important:

  • 79% of patients said accurate price estimates helped the prepare to pay for care
  • 88% of patients said receiving an estimate before care was important
  • 40% of patients said they would likely cancel or postpone care without an accurate estimate

The survey was conducted in December 2022 with 202 health care professional and 1,001 adult patients who sought medical care for themselves or a dependent in the prior 12 months, according to Experian. It was the third in a series that started in 2020.

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