Have you been referred to see a specialist by a primary care doctor in the past year? If so, how long did it take to actually see the specialist? If it was less than a month, you were lucky. On average, it’s about a 20-day wait to see a specialist, and about a 20-day wait to see a primary care doctor. So if you have something that you don’t want to go to the ER for, you’re gonna wait on average about 40 days. Then there is the follow-up, prescriptions, and tracking if the treatment is actually working to solve your issue.
Quick story: I went to see a specialist (arranged by my SteadyMD medical assistant) in a very large hospital system (About a month long wait to get in the door, and an hour past the appointment time). At the end of the appointment, the doctor told me to track some data and send it to him. I said, “Sure, I’ll email it” and he said “no, fax it, or leave a message on the voice-mail,” then took his paper towel surrounding his coffee and scrawled the phone & fax number on it. Once I actually submitted the data it took months to get a paragraph of feedback via snail mail. I know a ton of startups actively engaged with large hospital systems and that integrate fully with the EMR for patient-doctor communication and apps for tracking everything – but the doctor has to be motivated to implement a system for a most likely one-time appointment.
It’s tough to shorten wait times and solve communication problems with a specialist via technology (telemedicine, tracking apps, communication tools, EMR utilization, etc…). Specialists are normally already busy and get paid a lot. This lowers their motivation to do “extra” work to make things more efficient. Even if a specialist is willing to see patients online, they still have to be licensed in every state they are working in, which is a huge pain.
One way to reduce the stress and wait times on the system is to use an eConsult service. Basically, if you see a primary care doctor and they get a consult from a specialist, they can handle the resulting problem directly based on the consult about 50% the time, avoiding an initial specialist visit.
With services like SteadyMD, an online concierge primary care where the patient is connected to the same doctor year after year via a robust chat/video call platform, a patient can have a same-day appointment with their primary care doctor, the doctor can get a same-day specialist consult, and the doctor can prescribe/treat the patient based on the specialist’s advice right away. Also, the doctor can efficiently follow up to evaluate if the new treatment is working, and try something else if it isn’t. If necessary, a patient can always find an available in-person specialist under your insurance as well. Typically, episodic telemedicine visits with random medical professionals cannot accommodate this.
To illustrate the time savings, imagine a primary care doctor has 1,000 patients a year who need a specialist consult. With a system like SteadyMD, the system would be spared 1,000 initial primary care appointments and about 500 specialist appointments. If each of those office visits averaged a 20-day wait, that’s 40*1,500 = 60,000 days of waiting saved. Of course, there’s a ton of factors to consider, but you get the idea!