The Importance of Primary Care Access (and 5 Helpful Tips for Your Family)
Healthcare access is a trending topic on a large national scale, but it’s a necessary conversation on a smaller, local level too.
At AFM we typically define access as the ability for a patient to see a healthcare practitioner. There is no question that convenient access to quality healthcare services is important, and similarly to many healthcare organizations, we receive feedback from patients stating it is becoming increasingly difficult to schedule appointments with their primary care provider in a timely manner. We recognize this is as a serious problem. As we implement potential solutions, our team also measures and researches where these issues stem from.
With an increasing emphasis on preventive medicine, as well as constant changes and new requirements from major insurance providers, the demand for family medicine physicians is rising. In Colorado, a family medicine provider cares for on average 2,000 patients, known as a patient panel. Generally a provider will see each patient for two to three visits per year – some individuals requiring more frequent visits whereas others may only come in for their annual wellness exam. This alone amounts to roughly 5,000 patient visits per year per provider, and yet patient panels are expected to more than double in next decade.
This dramatic growth could potentially create even greater problems with access to primary care, which is why it’s pertinent that we begin this discussion early, now.
While we continuously strive to improve access by hiring additional practitioners and staff, opening additional urgent care clinics, increasing our after-hours availability and offering support and trainings for our team to enhance our works flows and efficiencies, here are a few helpful tips for you that may aid in accessing the care you need:
- Schedule your annual wellness exam early. A wellness exam is a comprehensive preventive visit with your provider. These examinations often take more time as they encompass your overall health and wellbeing. With such large patient panels, these appointments often fill up months in advance. We recommend scheduling your wellness exam around the same date each year and booking it as soon as possible to avoid full schedules.
- Utilize our urgent care facilities. Urgent cares treat most non-life-threatening illnesses and injuries. These visits are less expensive than an emergency room visit and no appointment is necessary. This is a convenient option if you or a family member needs more immediate care and your PCP is unavailable.
- Schedule follow-up visits as you leave the clinic. Many health conditions often require follow-up visits with your provider to ensure things are improving and appropriate adjustments to your plan of care are put in place. Try scheduling any necessary follow-up appointments with reception staff after seeing your doctor before you leave the clinic.
- Communication is key. Medical professionals want you to get the care you need as soon as possible. Communicate openly and honestly about symptoms, scheduling conflicts and any other additional needs you may have. This will help staff and providers accurately and appropriately help you get the exceptional care you deserve, every time.
- Create a My Health Connection account. This online portal allows access to recent appointment notes, lab and other test results, and a secure messaging system for you to communicate directly with your clinical team. There are also appointment request options if you are looking to schedule a visit in advance and want to avoid picking up the phone.
We are always trying new things to enhance the quality and access of primary care in Northern Colorado, and we welcome your thoughts. Share with us how we can improve.