Electronic consults between peers help alleviate wait times to see a specialist
Statistically, the longer a patient waits to see a specialist, the more likely they are to fall off their care plan or experience additional complications. And wait times continue to increase; by some metrics, wait times to see a specialist have doubled in the past year.
“There are three main reasons for excessive wait times for specialists,” says Rebecca Chi, chief client experience officer with AristaMD, which offers a peer-to-peer collaboration platform for physicians to provide specialist-guided care to patients.
The first of these three reasons is long-standing shortages among specialists. But second is the types of patients who most need these kinds of services.
“These patient populations, often over 65 with an increase in comorbidities and a need for specialty care, often have trouble reaching out,” says Chi. “A lot of times people at that age create a connection with their primary care doctor, but are reticent to step outside that relationship they’ve worked so hard to establish and build trust to go see someone else.”
Picking up the phone or contacting that specialist isn’t easy for many, says Chi. “They don’t want to tell their story again,” she explains. “They don’t want to go back through their history; it’s almost laborious for them, and it’s intimidating.”
And the third factor for protracted delays should come as no surprise: COVID-19’s impact on the industry. “It’s just exacerbating something that was already an issue,” says Chi.
One of the most severe consequences of the ongoing difficulties with specialty care access is a substantial increase in wait times among patients seeking a specialist appointment. The increase in appointment wait times increases the risk of avoidable complications and shifts the healthcare industry from proactive to reactive care, which is less effective and more costly for all parties involved. Further, while waiting for appointments, patients often seek care in less appropriate and more costly settings such as the emergency room—and indeed, a recent study notes that as many as 71% of emergency room visits are unnecessary and avoidable.
Efforts to streamline delivery of care have spurred an increasing prevalence of value-based payment arrangements, and primary care—the linchpin and front line of care—has emerged as a major catalyst for improving the efficiency and effectiveness of healthcare. Functioning as an effective primary intervention, primary care supports reduced wait times by optimizing time and place of care to treat a greater percentage of lower acuity patients, freeing up specialist queues for higher acuity patients.