An Access Disaster: Is This Your Health System?

“I do not believe we have a problem with access,” the CEO of a large IDN told me. “In fact, I challenge you to convince me otherwise.”

I’m guessing he thought that was the end of our discussion. Au contraire mon frère.

So, here is what I did. Please do not try this at home; remember, I am a professional.

I created a scenario that my son’s PCP wanted him to have his ankle examined by an orthopedist, and my goal was to schedule an appointment for him. The health system has a dozen hospitals, including a children’s hospital.

I tried to approach scheduling the appointment the way I assumed any parent would. I went to their website, found an 800-number on the site’s home page, and made my first call.

Unlike the websites of most health systems, this site had only one phone number on its home page. If you are bold enough to only have a single phone number, you probably want to give some consideration as to why people may be calling and what they hope to accomplish when they call.

The person who answered the phone told me that I had reached their referral center.

I then tried the site’s Find a Physician link, and I called the single children’s orthopedic doctor listed on the site. (It may be important to note that the health system has 217 orthopedists.) I was told that the doctor I called was a bone tumor specialist, a fact the web site did not specify.

Next I called pediatrics and asked whom I should call to get an appointment with a children’s orthopedic doctor. I was told, “This is pediatrics and I don’t have that number here.”

The next call had IVR to negotiate. The person I spoke with said, “For us to see him it would have to be a sports related injury.”

I then called the 800-number at the top of Children’s physician search page. The call was being recorded. I had to give the woman my name and insurance carrier before she would entertain the reason I called.  I began to get encouraged. After all, I thought she wouldn’t go through the trouble of taking my information if she wasn’t going to be able to help me. She could not give me the name of someone to call, but gave me the main number for the children’s hospital.

Finally I called Children’s, gave them my information, and was told “I don’t think we have orthopedics at Children’s.” I was transferred to a clinic and was told “We do not have orthopedics at Children’s, you have to call ABC Hospital.” ABC Hospital is not part of their health system; it is a competitor.

The series of calls took almost an hour. Had I really wanted to schedule an appointment, I would have given up much sooner.

Patient access, patient engagement, patient experience. The trinity of patient acquisition and patient retention.

Sometimes it all boils down to something so simple that getting it wrong is silly. If a health system cannot answer its phones and schedule an appointment, all of the other things that it does well will not matter to the person who made the call because that caller will buy their healthcare somewhere else.

The two processes that should be extremely simple, that should provide a great user experience, and that should be completed correctly one hundred percent of the time are scheduling and payments. Making it easy for people to buy from your health system and making it easy for people to pay for what they bought will go a long way.

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