Going to the doctor may never be a fun experience, but surely it can be better than it is right now. In 2019, even before the COVID-19 pandemic rocked the foundations of health care, an Ipsos survey found that 43% of Americans were unsatisfied with their medical system, far more than the 22% of people in the U.K. and 26% of people in Canada. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out what’s wrong.
When you call your primary care doctor’s office to schedule an appointment, you expect it to be within a week, but lately, meetings are being moved out as far as three to four weeks.
If you want to see an HCP you’re comfortable with you wait. And then you wait some more. And then, when you arrive on the day of your appointment, you wait even more.
If you need more tests, you probably have to return or go to a lab that draws blood or a facility that does X-rays and MRIs. When you call to set up your blood test, the waiting process starts again, and you still don’t know what’s wrong.
Going to the doctor may never be a fun experience, but surely it can be better than it is right now. In 2019, even before the COVID-19 pandemic rocked the foundations of health care, an Ipsos survey found that 43% of Americans were unsatisfied with their medical system, far more than the 22% of people in the U.K. and 26% of people in Canada who were unsatisfied with theirs. By 2022, three years into the pandemic, just 12% of U.S. adults said health care was handled “extremely” or “very” well in the U.S., according to a poll from the Associated Press–NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.
Here, customer service stinks for healthcare. U.S. patients are tired of waiting weeks or months for appointments over in minutes. They’re tired of high prices and surprise bills. They’re tired of providers who treat them like electronic health record entries rather than people.
About a quarter of American adults don’t have a primary-care provider, and, as of 2021, almost 20% hadn’t seen any doctor during the past year. There are many barriers: it can take weeks to get an appointment, particularly in more rural areas with fewer doctors, and visits can be costly, even for people with insurance. Research shows that the financial strain caused about 40% of U.S. adults to delay or go without medical care during the past year.
We’ve moved into the “instant gratification” era, but healthcare is stuck in the process of bureaucracy that never seems to end. The process could be even longer if you need prior authorization for treatment.
After my cycling crash, I needed surgery to try and repair some nerve damage in my hand. Before the surgery, I had to be cleared by a cardiologist, my primary care physician and needed a full blood workup resulting in a four-week delay. This is healthcare in America.
When I lived in California, there was an Urgent Care center within a mile of my house. They had an in-house blood lab, MRI, X-ray machine, and a Urologist and Cardiologist on staff. Any test I needed could be done during my visit, and I never needed to make an appointment. This IS the future of healthcare.
CVS wants to expand its business by having clinics within the store. I’ve used their “minute clinics,” and they stink. They are staffed by a nurse with little authority to prescribe medications or even order tests. If CVS and Walmart want to get into the medical practice business, they will need to have facilities that can treat patients on-site and conduct tests with some sense of urgency.
A third of patients in one 2015 study said they had avoided going to the doctor because they found it unpleasant, citing factors like rude or inattentive providers, long wait times, and difficulty finding a convenient appointment. Today it’s even harder just to find a practice that’s willing to take new patients.
U.S. medical schools do an excellent job of teaching students how to practice medicine. But, they aren’t always as good at preparing students to be doctors, with all the interpersonal complexity that entails. Physicians today must understand that most patients are frustrated with healthcare. Rather than say, “that’s the way it is,” the AMA should be pressing for change that puts patients first rather than paperwork.
The pandemic certainly hasn’t improved bedside manners. It’s pushed nearly every element of medical care to the brink and prompted some providers to leave the profession entirely, worsening existing personnel shortages and contributing to an epidemic of physician burnout. According to one recent survey, 30% of U.S. physicians said they felt burned out in late 2022, and about as many said they’d considered leaving the profession in the previous six months.
I hope that healthcare gets some new blood to disrupt the system. I think any facility that advertises “one-stop” for all tests and to consult with a doctor will win over patients easily. What do you think?