An AP story from January — “California to set time limit to see doctors” (http://www.newsradioword.com/pages/6151887.php?) — described how California’s Department of Managed Health Care is introducing regulations requiring HMOs to give patients appointments with family doctors within 10 business days of the request and appointments with specialists within 15 days.
This will probably introduce some staffing issues for some HMOs. And there are issues that could be discussed about whether these regulations are an appropriate role of government or if it would just be better for the market to determine the standards to which medical care providers adhere.
But what really interests me about this is how the regulators are codifying what doctors should be trying to do anyway in the name of patient satisfaction. Keeping patients waiting a long time for an appointment isn’t conducive to high levels of patient satisfaction.
The DrScore.com survey collects information on how long patients had to wait for an appointment. The longer patients have to wait for an appointment, the less happy they are. We found that patient satisfaction drops off differently for primary care doctors vs. specialists. A 10-day wait was tolerated pretty well by patients seeking specialists. Waiting that long for the primary care doctor wasn’t so well accepted by patients.
California’s regulations that set different goals for primary care doctors and specialists may make some sense. But I hope California’s regulations don’t end up being a standard that doctors strive to achieve. Based on our data, doctors — especially primary care doctors — should strive to get their patients into the office even quicker than these regulations call for.