Recently we’ve been working with one of our member health systems to build a comprehensive plan for ambulatory access. As we were brainstorming a list of success metrics, one physician leader made an interesting comment: “I’ll know we’re successful at improving access when people stop calling me asking to get their mom or husband or friend into a specialist.”
The other leaders in the room all nodded in agreement. While we’re all happy to assist friends and family with finding the best doctor for their problem, or getting in more quickly, these leaders recognized that these informal channels represent yet another level of inequality in our healthcare system: patients and families who can tap into “insider” provider connections have access to a “black market” of enhanced access and information that can expedite treatment, assuage worry, and potentially provide better outcomes.
Thinking about eliminating the need for the healthcare black market broadened our discussion of a successful access solution. Getting a quick appointment doesn’t fully solve the problem, patients want to be assured they’re seeing the “best” doctor for their problem—meaning the system needs to have a better process for matching new patients to the most appropriate provider.
One call to tap into the “black market” can eliminate a dozen frustrating calls and dead ends; any solution must also address the many friction points in finding the right care. A tall order for sure, but one that could address one large inequity in our healthcare system: the difference between people who know someone on the inside and those who don’t.