By Dan Paloski, Communications Specialist, AHA’s Physician Leadership Forum
Improving access to care is one of the central themes of the Affordable Care Act. With a flood of new patients set to enter the health care system when state exchanges open in 2014, some organizations are getting a head start by developing innovative ways to eliminate barriers and improve access to care. One such organization is Novant Health, based in Winston-Salem, North Carolina with their “Getting to Yes” campaign.
Started a year ago, the “Getting to Yes” campaign is just like it sounds – getting patients to say “yes” to Novant Health by fostering a culture that eliminates barriers and simplifies access to their health care system. The campaign was enacted in each of Novant Health’s five markets, which span the North Carolina/South Carolina/Virginia areas.
“Instead of trying to optimize the physician’s schedule, we’re trying to optimize the patient’s schedule and figure out ways we can make care more convenient to our patients and ways we can increase the delivery of care at a location most appropriate for the patient,” says Andrew Muller, MD, senior vice president for physician services at Novant Health.
According to Dr. Mueller, one of the things Novant has done is flex the hours at many of their primary care clinics to include early morning, night, and weekend times. In addition, some clinics are offering open access scheduling and walk-in availability as part of their daily operations.
“Patients can choose whether they want an appointment or whether they just want to show up when it’s convenient for them,” Dr. Mueller says.
This isn’t to say the campaign hasn’t had its challenges, mostly concerning information technology and physician buy-in, although actual pushback from physicians has been minimal, says Dr. Mueller. He says when practices have moved toward more flexible and open access scheduling, the variety of patients and conditions they treat increases dramatically. This, he says, has led to higher patient satisfaction, which in turn has increased physician and staff satisfaction. Dr. Mueller notes that productivity seems to have increased and has done so without a concurrent increase in workload. He says this is partly due to the fact that more patients with fairly quick and easy to treat symptoms are appearing on the schedule.
Investing in technology and seeing a return on that investment has played a major part in their “Getting to Yes” campaign. Besides some initial start-up glitches, since they’ve initiated the program, Dr. Mueller says Novant Health has been able to actively enroll over 10,000 patients per month in their “My Chart” patient portal through their electronic health record system. This has provided patients with the opportunity to access their medical records, schedule appointments, and have e-mail conversations with physicians and staff regarding care.
Dr. Mueller says the campaign is a key lever in Novant Health’s transformation from volume to value. The marketplace is becoming more consumer driven he says, and to satisfy their needs Novant Health has to be able to deliver care when and where patients want it and at various price points in the marketplace. To accomplish this, in addition to their “Getting to Yes” campaign, Novant Health is opening their own retail “minute clinics” at a lower price point than their urgent care or primary care practices. They’re also conducting final testing on an e-visit option for patients with their primary care physicians that they plan to roll out later this year.
As for the future, Dr. Mueller says Novant Health is going to continue moving forward with its “Getting to Yes” campaign. In addition, they’re going to continue to utilize information technology, finish their electronic health record rollout, and really focus on population health management and disease specific protocols.
“The more we roll out the program the easier it is to accomplish simply because of the success of the physicians who have gone ahead [and led the change],” Dr. Mueller says.