The firestorm over the comments made by VA Secretary Bob McDonald regarding the length of time veterans wait for healthcare has gotten me on my soapbox. By stating that Disney doesn’t measure wait times for guests’ queueing up for Space Mountain, McDonald was trying to point out that the VA should focus on the veteran’s overall healthcare experience when trying to quantify satisfaction. I have spent years working on ways to improve patient satisfaction in the large, academic physician practices where I have been fortunate enough to have been employed. I have conducted focus groups, spoken to patients one on one, sent surveys and read countless studies about how to positively impact the patient experience. I have found that asking patients to wait what a patient perceives is too long for care is the single biggest driver in patient dissatisfaction. I have also found that wait times for care (otherwise known as access to care) is the single biggest reason patients leave health systems to seek care from your competitor.
Evaluating the patients’ overall experience is indeed important. Effective clinical care, responsiveness to patients’ questions, a pleasant staff and appropriate follow up are obviously critical to the continuum of care. However, if a patient has had to wait weeks or months to receive an appointment, coupled with waiting far too long in a waiting room and examination room, the memory of the care quality is overshadowed by the often times tortuous wait.
Too many patients decide the wait is too long and choose another healthcare provider that is accessible. Unfortunately for our Veterans they have no choice. They are forced to utilize a healthcare system that is steeped in bureaucratic and antiquated processes. Waiting too long in the case of a chronically ill veteran could have serious health implications.
I urge my colleagues at the VA and elsewhere who are responsible for patient access to look at your patient wait times. If you think they are too long, your patients think they are an eternity. Dig deep to find the root causes of your access problems and solve them. Your patients and most certainly our Veterans will thank you for it.