Patient access to care sets a precedent for all encounters with the healthcare industry. Failure to access a proper physician makes it impossible to receive proper medical care, establish a relationship with their provider, and achieve overall wellness.
While it is crucial for healthcare organizations to make healthcare more convenient and offer other services to drive better access to healthcare, many patients across the country still lack proper access. From appointment availability problems to high costs, patient care access has a long list of associated challenges.
Here is a detailed overview of all the problems and obstacles to patient healthcare access.
Besides quality care, access to convenient healthcare is one of the main drivers for patient care decisions. Every patient wants access to healthcare when they want and need it; most patients require office hours that allow them to visit their physician after work or school.
However, a majority of healthcare organizations have set office hours for visits, typically ranging from 8 am to 6 pm. Unfortunately, these timings aren’t always useful or convenient for parents or working adults.
After realizing this issue, many healthcare organizations are now overcoming these issues by extending their office hours and creating a more patient-centered healthcare environment. In fact, after COVID, certain healthcare organizations have also started utilizing technology, allowing patients to seek medical advice without physically coming into the clinic or office. Retail clinics and urgent care centers are also letting patients receive care outside doctors’ office hours.
However, regardless of all these introductions in the healthcare industry, access is still quite limited. It is important for more clinics to change their office hours or set appointments for more people to access healthcare according to their convenience.
Patients residing in rural areas are likelier to struggle with gaining access to their physicians compared to those residing in urban or suburban areas. According to Statista, 57 million Americans were living in rural areas in 2020. So, it isn’t tough to imagine how many individuals living here face a litany of challenges when it comes to accessing healthcare.
According to the Rural Health Information Hub, those living in rural areas often encounter barriers to healthcare, limiting their ability to obtain the level of care they require. Rural residents must have the adequate and appropriate access. Necessary healthcare services need to be available and obtainable timely.
Even though the healthcare access rural residents face is different, they fall into two categories: physician shortages and geographical restrictions, and distance from healthcare providers.
A study by the University of Minnesota School of Public Health showed that rural residents traveled an average of 40.8 miles for their radiation treatment, while those urban residents traveled about 15.4 miles. A major contributor to this trend is the longer distance of treatment facilities from rural areas than urban areas.
Another issue that limits patient access to care is the lack of healthcare providers in rural areas. According to statistics from the National Rural Health Association, the patient-to-primary care physician ratio in urban areas is 53.3 physicians per 100,000 compared to 39.8 physicians per 100,000 people in rural areas.
However, presently, many healthcare professionals are calling for policy changes and legislative fixes to help gain more resources in rural areas.
In many instances, regardless of having access to a good healthcare provider and matching schedules, transportation barriers can prevent patients from seeing their clinicians. Transportation barriers are often faced by patients who are physically unable to drive, have financial issues, and cannot obtain the right transport.
Statistics show that about 3.5 million patients go without care due to a lack of transportation access to their healthcare providers. However, this crucial determinant of health has only recently gained attention in the country.
A growing number of healthcare providers have begun addressing this concern, viewing transport as a vital social determinant for health. Many of them have partnered with emerging rideshare companies such as Lyft and Uber and non-emergency medical transport providers and designed programs to get their patients on the road to recovery, improving patient access to care and cutting overall healthcare costs.
On the bright side, the medical transportation landscape’s expanding footprint through traditional and non-traditional means has allowed the addressing of other social determinants.
Limited Education About Care Sites
Many times, healthcare access issues for patients aren’t about getting a foot in the door but about getting a foot in the correct door. Sure, it is imperative for healthcare organizations to eliminate issues that keep patients from visiting their offices, but it is equally crucial for them to ensure patients are visiting the right facility type.
Patients can choose to receive care at various types of healthcare centers, including retail clinics, urgent care centers, microhospitals, emergency departments, and other treatment facilities. Although these increasing care options are an incredible step to care access for patients, it is crucial for medical providers to give patients proper education to help them identify the appropriate facility for their medical needs.
While it may seem plausible, patients don’t always receive appropriate care due to the lack of information they have about which type of facility they need to visit. For instance, those in need of high-acuity care often forego emergency care, while those with lower-acuity issues often visit the emergency department.
Therefore, many researchers conclude that improved patient information about the types of facilities, particularly regarding when and when not to visit any emergency department, is key to getting them access to appropriate care. The most effective solution to this concern is to encourage medical professionals to educate their patients on the precise uses of various care sites. For instance, serious healthcare situations such as accidents or heart attacks require visits to the ED, while a potentially sprained ankle can easily be treated in an urgent care clinic.
Getting patients the right care at the right time is a critical value-based care principle. The easy and convenient accessibility of a primary care visit leads to the reduced likelihood of developing a more concerning illness down the line.
High Healthcare Costs
Healthcare is expensive; specifically, the high out-of-pocket patient expenses are a healthcare access barrier. Many patients find themselves having to choose patient between receiving medical care and paying for basic necessities such as a mortgage, rent, or food, restricting their access to healthcare.
According to a West Health and Gallup poll, 3 out of 10 Americans suggested high out-of-pocket costs as a barrier to patient care. These patients further added that they skipped their medical visits due to the towering rates at least once in the last three months.
Another survey, including around 6,500 respondents, listed out-of-pocket healthcare expenses as a problem even for the rich. The U.S. faces this problem more than any other developed nation. Almost 38 percent of adults in the United States have skipped a medical test, visit, treatment, prescription fill, or follow-up in the last year due to the high cost.
Besides the considerable hurdles and obstacles in the healthcare industry, many patients also face many social issues that make it tough for them to set foot in the healthcare provider’s office. While many of these issues, such as residence in rural areas, geographical concerns, income, and cost of care, have already been covered above, there are some more challenges that fall under the “social” problems umbrella.
One of the most prominent social issues that have resulted in limited access to healthcare is racism or racial discrimination. Decades-old racist policies exist in the healthcare industry to this day and have led to unequal access to healthcare and, thus, unequal healthcare outcomes. Redlining is, perhaps, one of the most highlighted policies that date back to the late 1930s. It basically designates desirable and undesirable neighborhoods for investment and lending, creating racial segregation and disparities when it comes to accessing resources and services such as healthcare.
However, it’s not just racist policies that bar patients from accessing proper healthcare; implicit bias is another factor that instills distrust in medicine and dissuades those of color from gaining access to appropriate healthcare. Simply put, healthcare access is quite limited amongst Black communities due to many events, poor interactions, and negative interpersonal exchanges with medical providers.
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