Practice Notes

What the PeaceHealth acquisition of ZOOM+Care tells us about primary care access today

by Sarah Hostetter and Maria Restuccio

PeaceHealth, a non-profit Catholic health system in the Pacific Northwest, recently announced its acquisition of ZOOM+Care®, a local leader in on-demand retail and digital health care services. Through the acquisition, PeaceHealth aims to improve patient access and affordability of care by providing consumers with additional convenient care options. PeaceHealth's patients will soon be able to use ZOOM's technology to schedule same-day appointments at one of their neighborhood clinics or have direct digital access to their doctors online via an app.

 

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PeaceHealth is not alone in looking outside of traditional strategies to improve patient access. Industry disruptors, such as Amazon and Walmart, are changing the primary care landscape and setting a new expectation for patient access and consumer experience. In response, we have seen considerable focus on primary care access strategy in order to keep up with the competition.

How medical groups can improve access—without investing in a new platform

Despite this focus of medical group leadership on improving patient access, a recent Advisory Board survey finds that most medical groups still fall far behind industry-accepted access standards. Results reveal that, on average, less than half of new primary care patients are scheduled within seven days of an appointment request, with many waiting 16 days or more. So what can medical group leadership do?

  1. Collect and analyze patient access data. Although common measures of access aren't perfect, using metrics to understand opportunities for group-level patient access improvements can unlock efficiency gains at scale. Tactics such as benchmarking access at a regional or practice level—instead of a provider level—can help groups uncover areas of opportunity for groups to improve overall performance.

  2. Consider scheduling strategies like centralized and self-scheduling to improve the appointment booking process. Lack of convenience is a main reason patients leave their primary care providers or opt to use a retail clinic. To prevent this loss, many groups are working toward same-day or open-access scheduling by establishing standard appointments types and scheduling templates.

  3. Ensure that appointment availability matches patient preferences. Our primary care access survey found a significant lag between groups' third next available appointment and when new patients actually schedules a visit, suggesting that new patient visit slots go unused and patient preferences are not being met. Strategies like saving weekend and evening hours for new patients can help groups mitigate this gap and capture new patient volumes.

  4. Maximize existing capacity by deploying tactics to minimize no-show rates and improve the percentage of used appointment slots. Most groups are working at a reduced capacity from the burden of no-shows and late cancellations. Groups need to track these visits and consider leveraging overbooking techniques where possible to maximize existing capacity.

Our team is conducting new research on these and other patient access strategies. If you are interested in sharing your approach with us, email us at MGSC@advisory.com to set up a research interview.

5 myths physicians believe about patient experience

5 myths physicians believe about patient experience

Excellent patient experience is a critical piece of modern medicine, reflected clearly in outcomes. And more than amenities, clean rooms, or quiet during night, the factors that most inflect patient experience all relate to communication and coordination among the care team—factors that physicians are in a unique position to influence.

Clinician-patient communication, leadership of the care team, and support and empathy for the patient across the unit are the most important factors for success, and they're all driven by the physician as the "Influencer in Chief."

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