Access to healthcare is a challenge for rural consumers. Amber Allen, Executive Director, Primary Care, Quality & Innovation at Prevea Health, spoke at a Health Marketing Physician Strategies (HMPS) Virtual Summit session to share how her team modernized patient access in rural west Wisconsin. Moderated by Jordan Pisarcik, Vice President, Growth and Customer Engagement at DocASAP, the session examined the patient access journey and how digital health technology can create a frictionless patient experience.  

The Patient Access Challenge in Rural America

A 2019 Robert Wood Johnson Foundation survey revealed that rural Americans cannot easily access care for several reasons: 

  • 26% of rural Americans “say there has been a time in the past few years when they needed health care but did not get it.”
  • 45% said they didn’t get healthcare because they couldn’t afford it. 
  • 23% cited physical distance from the nearest doctor as a barrier to care.
  • 22% cited difficulty getting appointments at a convenient time as a barrier to care.
  • 19% said they couldn’t find a doctor who accepted their insurance. 

These barriers to patient access contribute to health disparities in rural communities, such as poorer patient outcomes and higher mortality rates for heart disease, cancer, and stroke.

For Prevea Health, a Wisconsin-based health system with over 200 primary care providers and specialists spread across 80+ locations, simplifying the patient access journey is a crucial piece of their growth strategy. To expand into west Wisconsin and close gaps in care, they needed to remove friction from the provider search and appointment booking processes.

“We recognize that there is an acute need when you have a large group or a lot of locations to help patients really hone in on what’s the right provider at the right time in the right setting,” Allen said. “We don’t expect patients to know who they want to see. We want to help patients find their way to that right provider.”

An Omnichannel Approach to Access

According to Pisarcik, all providers regardless of locale should think of patient access as a cycle. Digital technology such as online scheduling and real-time appointment notifications help nudge patients forward throughout their care journey, increasing the likelihood that they receive quality, convenient care. 

Patients enter this cycle through a myriad of touchpoints, which Pisarcik likens to the travel industry. 

“There’s so many different ways a patient may be able to book a seat on a flight,” Pisarcik explained. “They can go to Google Flights, they can go to a travel agent, or they can visit an airline website. Similarly in healthcare, it’s important to think about the consumer-facing access channels patients use to find care.” 

Common consumer-facing channels for online scheduling include:

  • Provider websites
  • Patient portals
  • Social media pages
  • Google My Business pages

However, Allen shared that Prevea was specifically interested in one patient access channel gaining traction in their market: health plan portals and apps.

Online Scheduling via Payor Touchpoints

Prevea Health sought to expand patient access for its rural customer base using online appointment scheduling via health plans.

With fewer available physicians nearby, rural patients typically struggle to find providers that accept their insurance. Contacting a call center to schedule an appointment is also difficult for patients who are busy during business hours. Scheduling appointments through payors matches patients with providers based on clinical needs, location, care setting, and insurance.  

Moreover, patients are already searching for providers through their insurance: according to a DocASAP survey, 47% of those seeking care search through a health plan member portal or app. Connecting with payors to offer online scheduling thus enabled Prevea to drive patients volume and connect providers to patients where they already are.

 “Gone are the days that patients are willing to come to you on your terms,” Allen said. 

Read more insights on online scheduling through payor touchpoints.

To gain insight into the demands of the healthcare consumer, and to investigate how providers are meeting these demands, read our free ebook “Catching Up to the Healthcare Consumer.”

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