Why accessibility matters

When deciding on how satisfied they are with a practice, patients look foremost to how quickly they can be seen, and how they can reach a physician for after-hours problems. Eleven quick tips can strongly influence the quality of care and how it's perceived by the patient.

Patients' perceptions of how accessible a practice is make up an important aspect of quality and patient-centered care. Accessibility means scheduling appointments is easy, patients are seen quickly and can reach a practice during and after hours, calls are promptly addressed, and testing and specialty care are readily available. When patients can't access a physician, whether on the phone or in person, their perception of good care is off to a bad start.

Better access to primary care positively impacts quality of care and prevents unneeded emergency department visits. Streamlined access to care is not only good clinical practice, it is good for patient satisfaction. High patient satisfaction builds loyalty, and loyalty can translate to patient retention, care continuity, and even better productivity of the clinical team and potentially enhanced net revenue.

Here are some tips to improve practice accessibility:

  • Have sufficient front office staff to answer the phones effectively and efficiently.
  • Use a patient-friendly telephone tree.
  • Provide patient/family access through secure e-mail.
  • Offer flexible patient scheduling, such as extended office hours.
  • Schedule each patient with a personal clinician unless that clinician is unavailable.
  • Allow patients to request appointments by e-mail.
  • Provide same-day appointments if clinically indicated or if requested.
  • Use an “open access” or “advanced access” scheduling model, or schedule group visits for some populations of patients.
  • Include dedicated “phone hours” when patients know that they can reach their clinician. This can eliminate unnecessary office visits and phone tag and allow visit time to be used more wisely.
  • Assist patients in scheduling other tests, procedures and specialty care. This also reduces multiple phone calls and ensures adherence.
  • Help patients identify and obtain coverage for care.

These actions can strongly influence both patients' perceptions of accessibility and the quality of care provided and can maximize the use of physicians' time. Patient satisfaction can engender loyalty, while dissatisfaction may send patients to a practice that can better address their needs or cause them to disengage from the care plan because of a perceived lack of responsiveness and caring.

Clinicians interested in practice improvement may want to implement some or all of these actions. For further insight into practice improvement, consider using ACP's significantly revised Medical Home Builder®. This tool helps practices assess their ability to improve different aspects of patient-centered care (including accessibility), introduces practical tools and educational resources, and engages the talents and capabilities of the entire office team. Learn more about this low-cost, high-value practice improvement tool.