Hurry up and wait! This phrase is often attributed to the U.S. military, but is equally applicable in health care today. Average wait times in doctors’ offices and emergency departments are at all-time highs, and they don’t look to be improving any time soon. According to several studies, and as published in vitals.com, the average wait time to see the physician at a primary care appointment is greater than 20 minutes. This is in addition to a one month wait to schedule an appointment with your doctor, as reported by the New York Times in 2014. Limited physician availability and extended wait times are major drivers of the move to telemedicine. Traditional methods of reducing wait times by hiring more physicians, increasing support staff, or extending physician hours are costly, and may be completely out of reach for smaller practices with limited resources.
With telemedicine, there is no need to make an appointment with your doctor. Simply pick up the phone or sit down at your computer, and within minutes you are in a queue to speak to a physician. Unfortunately, there is that word queue popping up again. In most models of telemedicine, the responding physician is only able to answer one call at a time, leading to published wait times for a telemedicine visit at 3-5 minutes and that’s with published utilization at just 1-3 percent range. As utilization increases, telehealth companies will be forced to either increase patient wait times, or hire more physicians to staff the phones. Imagine the frustration of a patient waiting in a virtual waiting room. According to BSM Consulting, a healthcare consulting firm, patients don't mind waiting for up to 20 minutes, but after 20 minutes, patients think their time is wasted. What will all this waiting get you? It will likely get you an encounter with a physician who has no connection with your local doctor, can’t arrange follow up care, and will never speak to you again after that visit is complete.
In addition to the significant pressure on a national level to decrease wait times and cost, there is also a push to improve patient satisfaction and quality of care. Telemedicine certainly holds the promise of improving patient satisfaction and timeliness of care. If patients can be evaluated quickly and conveniently by a physician, they’ll likely leave more satisfied. But does this easy access improve the quality of care, or could it lead to more fragmented care? Primary care providers may fear that their patients will be lost to follow-up after a telemedicine visit, won’t get the timely post acute care they need, or will be referred to the emergency department unnecessarily due to telehealth providers practicing more defensive medicine than in person providers.
Now imagine a telehealth platform such as CirrusMD where all healthcare is local. CirrusMD designed virtual care solutions not just to reduce cost and wait times, but to actually improve a patient’s access to the full suite of healthcare options. Our local telehealth providers facilitate transitions across the continuum of care, acting as the virtual front door to integrated care delivery, usually responding in under 1 minute. CirrusMD providers have access to patients’ complete medical records, and our workflow ensures timely and efficient follow up with primary care physicians. We believe there’s no such thing as after hours. We’re committed to continuity of care, exemplified by ending each encounter with the words “keep in touch.” At CirrusMD, our goal is not to replace your local physician and network; our goal is to enhance it.