The U.S. healthcare system is known for many things; being one of the best in the world, being one of the most expensive in the world, and offering a more personal patient experience. But one reputation it wish it didn’t have, is the wait.
Because waits, delays and cancellations have become a commonplace in healthcare, patients and providers assume that “the wait” comes with the territory. While some delays are beyond the control of even the most sophisticated, state-of-the-art scheduling software, due to the unpredictability in providing medical care, many causes of delays can be addressed.
By working to change the routine wait-times that are paired with receiving medical attention, providers and facilities would be able to focus on maintaining a higher level of care for patients, which is where the priority should always remain. It’s also important to realize that the fault for excessive wait-times does not fall squarely on the shoulders of healthcare providers, but are symptoms of larger issues with how our society approaches and utilizes our healthcare system. But these issues aren’t insurmountable. They can and should be addressed.
Now, waiting at a hospital is not anything new. But what is new is how patients are receiving their care at hospitals. Trips to the Emergency Room (ER) account for about half of all hospital admissions and shockingly, from 2000 to 2009, nearly all of the rise in overall admissions. This puts strain on the Emergency Department (ED) to accommodate this influx of patients in the same number of beds they’ve always had. This dramatic increase in volume has been one of the biggest causes of increased wait times in hospitals. Once patients are in the ER, they can face delays being admitted if all the inpatients bed are full. This delay has been shown to cause higher rates of morbidity and mortality. Many of the reasons for ER visits can be addressed at urgent care centers, and primary care doctors.
The industry was stuck using outdated operations and technology that caused chronic delays.
In a perfect world, hospitals would be perfectly staffed to meet the needs of current and incoming patients. I think we’ve all come to terms with the fact that we do not live in a perfect world. The issue of staffing is not always about hiring more nurses, doctors, and staff—it’s also about scheduling appropriately. I think we all consider doctors and nurses to be heroes (rightfully so), but they are still human. We cannot expect to stack more and more patients onto their already-long-shifts, while expecting them to provide care at the highest possible level. A big hurdle hospitals face when it comes to hiring is the ongoing nursing shortage. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts 1.2 million vacancies for registered nurses between 2014 and 2022. This shortage will only exacerbate wait times as more and more of the Baby Boomer generation ages and require medical care. If we want to turn this statistic around, we need to readdress what is expected of our nurses and doctors and offer additional resources to assist with their every-day workload.
One cause of delays in both hospitals and primary care practices is unreliable medical transportation. Namely, ambulances. Patients sitting in beds waiting to be discharged. Doctors waiting for their patients to arrive for appointments. The entire industry was stuck using outdated operations and technology that caused chronic delays.
It’s one of the reasons I started Ambulnz in the first place: hospitals need a partner they can depend on and patients need to know they’ll make it to their appointment times in the care of reliable, professional, trained EMTs. Even the ordering process for transportation was rethought and streamlined to save time so nurses and physicians can spend less time making phone calls and tracking down ambulances, and more time focusing on their patients.
If you’ve been lucky enough to have never been to the ER or ride in ambulance, one place you most likely have experienced a long wait, is at the doctor’s office. In the waiting room of course. Unfortunately this has become the norm. The wait can be caused by unsophisticated schedules—doctors trying to squeeze in as many people as possible. This is where the federal mandate for emergency medical records (EMR) in 2014 came in. Doctors have slowly begun to use new technology for both scheduling purposes, and during appointments, to save time and improve accuracy. But it’s also the patients, who can cause the hold up. Last minute appointments for medication refills you probably should have called about last week, expecting to resolve all your medical symptoms over the past 2 years in one appointment, and not researching your own medical benefits, can unquestionably throw off an entire day’s schedule. As individuals, we can affect the health care system for the better, by taking responsibility for ourselves.
The issues facing our healthcare system are complex, because healthcare is complex – medical insurance is complex, and medical transportation is complex. But that doesn’t mean we should just accept the system, the status quo, as is. We need to encourage hospitals, primary care practices, ambulance companies and EMTs as individuals, to break the cycle of delays and waiting that we have all come to expect. I believe that if our healthcare providers aren’t afraid to rethink the system, embrace technology and grasp change, they can rid themselves of the stigma that great healthcare takes time, and make patient care the primary focus.