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A better way to measure and improve patient access

In healthcare, every interaction matters. Listening across multiple points in the patient journey allows organizations to understand how moments from scheduling to post-appointment impact the holistic patient experience.

Scheduling an appointment is a necessary step in receiving care. It can either be a barrier to access or a seamless process that sets the tone for future interactions with an organization. Community Health Network, an Indianapolis-based nonprofit health system that operates more than 200 sites of care, knew there was a better way to measure the appointment scheduling experience to better understand appointment scheduling and its impact in the overall patient journey.

As part of their broader patient experience program, Community Health Network set out to answer the question, “Does the patient scheduling experience impact how the patient perceives and/or experiences his or her actual appointment?”

Moving beyond the industry standard

Like most healthcare organizations, prior to using Qualtrics, Community Health Network was focused on post-transactional surveys completed after an appointment. By asking about access after an appointment, Community Health Network was only surveying the “winners” – those who both made an appointment and successfully completed said appointment. Therefore, they were missing out on key indicators and portions of the patient’s care continuum. With their previous approach, if weeks or months had passed since the appointment was scheduled, Community Health Network couldn’t expect patients to accurately rate the scheduling experience on their post-transactional survey.

Community Health Network was also using the industry standard measure of “Third Next Available Appointment” to track wait time and the patient’s ability to see their preferred provider. The measurement is defined as the average number of days between when a patient makes a request for an appointment and the physician’s third next available appointment. However, it doesn’t take into consideration factors such as patient preference, diagnosis, visit type and more.

Recognizing this gap in listening, the team implemented a new Appointment Time Choice survey. By integrating Qualtrics with the EMR (Epic) system, Community Health Network is able to trigger the appointment scheduling experience survey in real-time, merely seconds after a patient schedules or reschedules an appointment. The patient is asked about the appropriateness of the time between scheduling and the actual appointment and the appointment scheduling experience itself.

Collecting real-time feedback

An interdisciplinary team of researchers and clinicians across Community Health Network worked together to formulate the seven-question survey. Their methodology was based on a comprehensive review of the literature related to patient experience and access.

With this new, real-time survey, patients or their parents/guardians are asked to rate whether “the time between scheduling and my appointment is appropriate” and “How easy or difficult was it to schedule an appointment?”

By analyzing appointment time choice and post-transactional survey results horizontally across the patient’s continuum of care, not just in transactional silos, Community Health Network found that appointment scheduling metrics are statistically significant predictors of post-appointment feedback. Ease of scheduling proved to be the most impactful, followed by ease of accommodating schedule and appointment wait time. Thus, improving the appointment scheduling can also improve the overall appointment experience.

Analyzing impact across the patient journey

After Community Health Network uncovered a relationship between encounters occurring before an appointment and those occurring during an appointment, the next step was acting on these findings.

This analysis empowered operational leaders to make impactful changes to the appointment scheduling experience, which has not only improved the scheduling experience but has also tangibly impacted post-appointment outcomes.

"Patient access is the gateway to quality care and the cornerstone of an exceptional patient experience. It is the bridge between a patient's need for timely, personalized care and the healthcare system's ability to deliver it effectively,” said Dr. Patrick McGill, MD, MBA, EVP, Chief Transformation Officer at Community Health Network. “By ensuring seamless access to healthcare services, we empower patients to embark on their healing journey with confidence, dignity, and trust, ultimately fostering a healthcare environment where every individual feels valued, supported, and prioritized."

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Maggie Gentry // Director, Experience Analytics, Community Health Network

Maggie Gentry is the experience analytics director at Community Health Network, a nonprofit health system based in Indianapolis, Indiana that operates more than 200 sites of care and facilitates more than two million patient-provider encounters every year.

Olivia Schwartz // Experience Analytics Associate, Community Health Network

Olivia Schwartz is an experience analytics associate at Community Health Network. She is a current senior at the University of Notre Dame majoring in Applied and Computational Mathematics and Statistics with a second major in Honors History.

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