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Why improving access is a win-win for imaging patients and providers

March 28, 2017

    In an era of taxi-apps, instant grocery delivery, and even on-demand dry-cleaning, convenience is king for winning consumers. In many ways, health care is no different. 

    While consumers are not ordering mobile MRIs to their apartments, it is undeniable that patients have become activated players in their health care decisions. Although the majority of imaging patients follow the recommendations of referring providers, consumers are having new conversations with their doctors about their expectations for health care. We hear time and again that providers are making referral decisions based on patient preferences.

    Many of the same consumer preferences for easy convenience carry over into imaging.

    Imaging consumers demand convenient access

    One thing we learned from our Imaging Consumer Preferences Survey is that, when it comes to outpatient imaging, patients want it all. We asked over 2,000 potential patients questions that allowed us to rank 67 different attributes of an outpatient imaging setting according to how valuable they were to patients. The top 10 most preferred factors spanned the full gamut: quality, cost, access, service. But the lowest ranking factors tell a different story: five of the 10 least-preferred factors were related to access.

    Notably, two of those bottom 10 factors have to do with appointment wait time. For example, a two-to-seven-day wait for an appointment ranked as the 59th most valuable to patients of 67 total attributes.

    Access is crucial to maintaining referrals

    Many imaging programs report strong performance on traditional access metrics such as third next available appointment. Interestingly, through our research we found that all programs, regardless of their current performance on access, cited access issues as a top challenge. As evidence, a recent member survey reveals that access-related factors such as appointment availability and scheduling ease were ranked as the most important competitive factors in any given market.

    These survey results, taken together demonstrate that access must be approached from the perspective of both patients and referring providers. Offering immediate access for all outpatient imaging exams may be unattainable and even unnecessary. Instead, programs should focus on improving access where patient and referring provider demands align.

    Case study: Using a coordinated schedule to provide same-day appointments

    Bluefield University Imaging—a pseudonym—noticed that many of their patients travelled significant distances to see Bluefield physicians and had to wait several days between appointments. This created unnecessary strain on both patients and caregivers.

    Bluefield collaborated with referring specialists to pilot a coordinated scheduling process. Referrers identify patients who are traveling, and schedulers from both offices collaborate to offer same-day imaging and specialist appointments. On the day of the coordinated clinic visits, the technologist flags the completed study so that it is prioritized in the radiologist's queue. The referring provider receives a preliminary report with a few hours of the exam and prior to the patient's scheduled visit.

    Today, half of all Bluefield patients have coordinated clinic visits.

    Bluefield University Imaging's coordinated scheduling impacts both of their primary consumers: patients and providers. As patients become more involved in making care decisions with referring providers, imaging programs must meet the demands of each group to safeguard current volumes and attract new business.


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