Many Americans Wait Too Long for Needed Health Care: Report

Many Americans Wait Too Long for Needed Health Care: Report

Many Americans Wait Too Long for Needed Health Care: Report

Institute of Medicine experts say patient-focused system could help

SOURCE: Institute of Medicine, news release, June 29, 2015

MONDAY, June 29, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- Health care wait times vary widely across the United States, according to a new report from the Institute of Medicine (IOM).

At best, some people receive same-day service. But others aren't so lucky. The report found that some people must wait several months to receive the health care services they need.

Delayed access to health care could potentially have negative effects on patients' health and satisfaction. It could also damage a health care organization's reputation, the report stated.

"Everyone would like to hear the words, 'How can we help you today?' when reaching out for health care assistance," Gary Kaplan, chair of the study committee that wrote the report, said in an IOM news release.

"Health care that embraces this philosophy is patient- and family-centered and implements the knowledge of systems strategies for matching supply and demand. Care with this commitment is feasible and found in practice today, but it is not common. Our report lays out a road map to improve that," added Kaplan, who is chairman and chief executive officer of Virginia Mason Health System in Washington state.

It's particularly important to help patients seeking mental health services get their care in a timely manner, the report said. The longer these patients wait, the less likely they are to go to their appointments. Frustrating delays can also discourage patients seeking mental health services from reaching out for help or following up on their care.

There are many reasons why people seeking health care services face long waits, the report found. Some delays may be attributed to problems with supply and demand, and scheduling that focuses on providers' needs, as well as financial and geographic barriers.

Patients and their families should be the priority, the IOM report said. The researchers suggested that "systems-based approaches" used successfully in other industries could help patients get a faster response.

Although same-day services aren't always possible, they often can be achieved, the experts said. The report suggested that the following steps could improve access to health care and help meet patients' needs:

  • Continuous monitoring and realignment of supply and demand,
  • Providing alternatives to office visits with a doctor, such as telephone consultations with non-physician clinicians,
  • Focusing on patient preference when scheduling health care services.

"There is a need for leadership at both the national level and at each health care facility for progress to be made in improving health care access, scheduling, and wait times," IOM President Victor Dzau said in the news release.

"Although a lack of available scientific evidence hinders establishing specific standards for scheduling and wait times, systems strategies and case studies can help guide successful practices until more research is completed," he said.

The IOM committee also advised government officials and professional societies to take an active role in promoting the application of systems approaches to health care delivery.

The Institute of Medicine is an independent, nonprofit organization that works outside of government to provide unbiased and authoritative advice to decision makers and the public.

More information

The Institute for Healthcare Improvement has more about shortening waiting times for health care services.

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