Long Wait Times or Scheduling Appointments — What Annoys Patients the Most?

Can social media conversations help providers remedy consumer pain points about healthcare?

Health is wealth, goes the old adage. In America, this is especially true. A highly politicized issue, healthcare policy has long been the bone of contention between Democrats and Republicans. And in this tussle, quality healthcare has been the biggest casualty.
The US spends twice as much on healthcare per-capita as other developed countries —. Americans spend an average of $9,024 on healthcare annually, compared to Italians who spend $3,207 and the British who spend $3,971. But this high spending does not guarantee better healthcare — for instance, the US spends more on health care than any other country and still ranks 12th in life expectancy and is the only industrialized country without paid maternity leave.

How does this translate in actual care and what does it mean for the average consumer? For the 26 million who are uninsured and even for those who have insurance, optimizing personal healthcare can be daunting. Starting from getting the diagnosis correct to finding the right channel for treatment and then trusting the quality of care, the process is anything but straightforward. Patients and caretakers alike have to juggle taking many hard decisions at once — what method to use to treat a condition, which doctors are trustworthy, and how to manage costs efficiently.   
Consumers are talking about all these tough healthcare decisions and much more and sharing their experience on social media. When we looked at social media posts (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, blogs, and forums) written in English in the U.S. from 2010-2016, we are able to identify consumers’ crucial pain points around the healthcare process.
In this post we discuss what annoys consumers the most about the healthcare system, including:

  • Long wait times
  • Scheduling appointments
  • Insurance concerns

Your doctor is out

Sometimes, finding a place to obtain treatment might be as challenging as the treatment itself. When we analyzed the discussion around where consumers go for care, we found three prominent avenues: primary care providers, urgent care, and walk-in clinics.

Although consumers predominantly talk about primary care providers, the conversation has expanded to include alternatives, slowly eating into the PCP conversation from 2010 to 2016. Other options like urgent care and walk-in clinics have garnered a larger share of voice —  going from about 5% share of voice in 2010 to nearly 20% in 2016.

What has caused the shift? Long waiting times are one factor. Wait times, for both scheduling appointments and waiting to be treated the day of the appointment, factor into a patient’s decision to seek more immediate and convenient care from urgent care centers or walk-in clinics. Doctor wait times have soared 30% in 15 major metropolitan cities including Boston, New York, Portland and San Diego. Patients wait an average of 24 days to schedule an appointment with their doctor.
Urgent care centers have stepped in to fill the gap left by PCPs — these centers, in contrast to a primary care providers, are walk-in healthcare facilities usually located in accessible locations. They generally do not require appointments and have extended evening and weekend hours of service. Centers are typically staffed by physicians, sometimes nurse practitioners or physician assistants, and offer short-term medical care for a range of acute, non-life threatening illnesses and injuries, as well as a limited array of diagnostic services such as lab testing and imaging. Urgent care centers began to appear in the early 1980s and as of 2015, today there are nearly 7,000 locations nationwide.
People also appreciate the ability to get in and out quickly. Some urgent care centers list their prices upfront — $25 for a flu shot, $69 for a physical. The convenience and transparency drive urgent care centers’ popularity.

All lines in this route are busy…

As we have seen, the need for urgent care centers is justified by the long waiting times at primary care providers. But what causes these drawn out waiting periods? Conflicts in scheduling appointments, among other things.
A study conducted in 2015 estimated that patients spend 64 minutes at the doctor’s office waiting to be seen and filling out forms and only 20 minutes with the doctor. It costs patients $43 in lost time, every visit.
Scheduling appointments is far more complex than it may seem — there are various factors that contribute to the inefficiencies of the system including overbooking, prioritizing referrals from certain doctors, insurance status of the patient and doctor availability issues during certain times in a day. All of this, unsurprisingly, exacerbates a patient and compromises on the quality of care.

This visit will cost you..$$$

There are fewer impediments than costs to getting proper health care in America — and the opaque web of insurance only makes it worse.


For more healthcare insights, download the full report here:

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