Access to healthcare is crucial for determining the health outcomes of patients and the population in general. Patients who cannot get to doctors and other healthcare professionals or access healthcare services do not receive the care they need, which can lead to serious negative outcomes. In addition to physical access, there are other factors that affect access to healthcare, and we will explore them below.
Limited Office Hours and Appointment Availability
Most healthcare organizations have set office hours for patient visits which range from eight to 12 hours. For working parents or those with children in school, typical office hours aren’t suitable, so they become a barrier to healthcare access.
Since patients want access to healthcare services if and when they want or need them, healthcare providers and facilities are taking note. They are addressing the issue by expanding office hours to accommodate more patients and some are also using technology to remove the need for patients to come to the office.
Healthcare Professional Shortages
Patients in rural areas are disproportionately impacted by shortages of healthcare professionals. They may not have a healthcare facility within a few miles of where they live, and if they do, these facilities may not have the staff required to ensure comprehensive healthcare services.
We are also seeing healthcare access in rural areas hindered due to nursing shortages. In many states, nurse practitioners can provide various healthcare services, including diagnosing, prescribing, and treating, without supervision. However, a shortage of these nurses, many of whom would be deployed to these areas, means they miss out on healthcare services.
High Healthcare Costs and Access to Insurance Services
The high cost of healthcare, including high out-of-pocket charges, remains one of the most significant factors impacting access to healthcare. High costs of healthcare cause patients to choose between paying for it or paying for other essentials like food and housing. In almost all cases, patients decide to forego healthcare, thinking they will get back to it later.
Although this issue affects those in the middle- and lower-income demographics the most, even the wealthiest households have been impacted. A West Health and Gallup poll found in 2021 that the cost of healthcare had risen by 3% for the wealthiest households without factoring in the cost of COVID-19 treatments.
One solution that works best for this challenge is making health insurance readily available to anyone who needs it. The choice of affordable insurance should extend beyond Medicare and Medicaid, which are under tremendous strain. Once these options are available, providers should ensure their members can pay their premiums as conveniently as possible.
Credit and debit cards remain a popular and convenient option. However, some people prefer paying with cash. Because of this, providers should explore options for customers who prefer paying in cash to ensure they have access to health insurance and the healthcare services they need.
Even in cases where there are enough healthcare professionals and a patient can pay for healthcare, they still need to get to a facility. Transportation can become a barrier and thus a significant problem for people living with disabilities or those with mobility issues due to various reasons.
Access to healthcare services is a right that everyone should enjoy. However, there are significant barriers that are hindering access to it. Sorting out these issues will mean a healthier, stronger nation, reduced healthcare costs and reduced strain on Medicare and Medicaid.