All I Want for Christmas is a Doctor’s Appointment

A friend of mine had a very timely – and telling – prayer request at church the other day. She asked the Lord to help those in need of doctor’s appointments make them in a timely manner, both in terms of receiving care soon, and getting face time with a doctor before insurance deductibles roll over or cancelled policies end. It’s a prayer I’m sure many patients have been uttering just before they pick up the phone to see when their doctor’s next available appointment is; one that is all the more urgent for those with chronic conditions.

I have based past decisions on which new doctor to use based on their window of open appointments. Can’t see me for three weeks? Then you don’t get my business. Time is of the essence in healthcare these days. Patients want doctors’ time, and doctors don’t seem to have enough to go around. (Nor do they feel adequately compensated for it.)  Healthcare IT – patient portals, CPOE, natural-language processing systems, etc. – is certainly playing a role in helping doctors and ancillary staff get back some of that time. (Though many doctors contend entering data into EMRs is eating up a lot of that time savings.)

Some have postulated that healthcare IT, particularly digital health tools, will actually cause us to need doctors less. This counters the notion that we will soon see (if we aren’t already) a physician shortage, and an even greater lack of appointment availability thanks to the 27 million newly insured who will take advantage of their new policies in 2014. I’m not quite convinced that digital health devices and apps will cause me to go to the doctor any less. They may make the waiting in between my appointments less anxiety inducing, but I know myself too well to think I’d ever scale back on face time with my doctor. Perhaps those with chronic conditions feel differently. I’d be open to telemedicine and virtual visits, but those don’t seem to be on the radar of providers in my area.

Healthcare IT can certainly save time and improve access to care, but I don’t see how it can convince people to enter the healthcare field, which is where the true appointment availability problem seems to stem from. As a recent article at points out, “retirement age physicians outnumber young members entering the ranks; over-worked physicians want to reduce their hours and care for fewer patients; and [there is a] general disenchantment with the state of healthcare.”

It’s a sad state of affairs when put that way. So what’s the answer? How can the healthcare industry – healthcare IT in particular –  work to ensure that prayers for timely appointment availability are no longer routine? Feel free to share your ideas in the comments below.

About the author

Jennifer Dennard

Jennifer Dennard

As Social Marketing Director at Billian, Jennifer Dennard is responsible for the continuing development and implementation of the company's social media strategies for Billian's HealthDATA and Porter Research. She is a regular contributor to a number of healthcare blogs and currently manages social marketing channels for the Health IT Leadership Summit and Technology Association of Georgia’s Health Society. You can find her on Twitter @JennDennard.


  • There is an application out there called ZocDoc that allows patients to see schedule openings in MD office calendars in their local geography for participating providers. Although patients can’t always get what they want, this gem of a tool allows them to get what they need. My opinion is that the days of close doctor patient relationships are coming to a close and health care will soon be a commodity at the MD level. Relationships will become the realm of CAM practioners and HEalth-Wellness coaches. Consumers will pick their MD specialists based upon availability and their primary doc, often the weak COM graduate in our American system anyway, has always been and will always be a game of chance and referral guesswork. As Decision Support deploys throughout the healthcare system, Deep Thought of Medicine will be the superior diagnostician. I think we will be amazed at the rapid deployment of Telemedicine and I am of the opinion that the current supply of MDs and DOs will meet societal needs. Besides, the real bottle-neck is in residency positions, as I understand it.

    “Those who fear change are condemned to failure; grow or die” – Stephen Gould

    Disclosure: I have no affiliation with ZocDoc.

  • Dr. Newman,
    Thanks for sharing your comments. ZocDoc is nice for some organizations that want to do online booking. The real challenge is that I’ve heard many clinics tell me that ZocDoc is great, but is just way too expensive for them.

    I agree that Telemedicine will happen and soon. We’re already seeing it embraced in situations where they are taking a new non-insurance model for healthcare.

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