Covered California has implemented several changes to health plans to increase the access of doctors for patients. All EPO and PPO members will be assigned a Primary Care Physician and they have lowered the office visit copay for most plans, in addition to the no cost office visits for preventive care. But the one accessibility challenge that has not been addressed is the office hours of most doctors. It would make far easier for health care consumers to get care if they could visit their doctor in the evening or on weekends.
This may be news flash to health care consumer advocates, but most of us work during the day. Most doctor offices are only open when the majority of people are either at school or at work. For some individuals and parents, it is a major struggle to take time off of work for doctor visits. Then there are the chronic procrastinators, like me, who use the excuse of work not to make a doctor’s appointment.
One result of the inaccessibility to routine health care is that people wait until they are in real pain before seeking health care. This pushes people to urgent care or the emergency room which are more expensive than a doctor’s office visit.
I understand that doctors have a life too. They want to spend time with their family in the evenings and weekends. Unfortunately, a person’s health is not limited to Monday through Friday, 8 am to 5 pm. It’s as if sheriff and police offices only worked during the week. Crime happens at all hours of the day and especially on weekends. If the peace officers limited their on-duty hours to the regular work week schedule, we’d have chaos in the streets every night.
One of the rationales of the Affordable Care Act was that if more people had access to health care through health insurance, they would lead healthier lives and could maintain their productivity at work or home. Many industries cater to the working family. Grocery stores are open in the evening and weekends. Auto repair shops stay open late so people can pick up their cars after they get off of work. The home improvement centers like Home Depot and Lowes would go out of business if they were only open during the day Monday through Friday. Even laboratories have early morning, late evening, and some weekend hours for people needing to get blood drawn.
Health care is a service industry. Doctors need to start accommodating their customers and their schedules. Parents, especially, would love to be able swing by the doctor’s office after work so their child could get their allergy shot or have a follow up exam. Why do doctors think they are so special that they should force their patients to work around their schedule?
If you want to make health care more accessible, make doctors more accessible. While some physicians do have evening and some weekend hours, most of the parking lots of physician’s groups are a ghost town after 6 pm. Some doctors already have limited office hours and days. Why can’t they open at noon at close at 9 pm? Why can’t some be closed on Mondays but be open on Saturday like barbers?
There will always be barriers to getting health care. Doctors who only practice during the week represent an antiquated service model and should not be one of those barriers. The delivery of health care needs to change. A modest change for the consumer would be mandating that doctors need to maintain office hours that are outside of the traditional Monday through Friday work week.