November 10, 2003

Emory Clinic: Improved access for employees

By Michael Terrazas

To better enable Emory employees to take advantage of the premier health care facility that is located literally right next door, the Emory Clinic is taking steps to improve access for patients who work for the University and all its affiliated institutions.

Beginning in January 2004, Emory employees can schedule clinic appointments through a new, two-tiered process designed specially for them and titled "Emory Employee Access." First, patients can use the traditional route by calling section schedulers to make appointments (it will be the patients' responsibility to notify the scheduler that they are Emory employees). If the employee patient is not satisfied with the time frame to appointment, a second tier--the Employee Patient Advocate Line--allows for some recourse.

"Emory employees long felt confused about how to access the services of the Emory Clinic, said Donald Brunn, the clinic's chief operating officer. "As Emory looked at how its employees accessed health care providers through its health plans this last year, we saw that thousands of visits were going outside the clinic. Sometimes, it's because employees don't live close enough to a clinic location, in other cases, it's because they don't feel they can readily secure an appointment. We intend to correct that."

Indeed, in an employee survey conducted by the Emory Healthcare marketing department in September, employees cited the perceived inability to get appointments with Emory Clinic doctors within a reasonable time frame as a top concern. The nearly 4,000 responses supported the creation of Emory Employee Access as a valuable and worthwhile initiative.

Though Emory Employee Access may not always change the time it takes to get an appointment (Emory employees will not receive preferential treatment in this respect over the general public), it will provide employees with scheduling resources available only to them. And employee patients may find they are able to get appointments quicker--as long as they do not insist on seeing a particular physician.

"We are providing access to our practice, not necessarily to individual physicians," said Reid Willingham, operations and planning coordinator, who is overseeing the project. "This is an innovative way to cross-sell our physicians who are not currently at capacity for patient visits."

Willingham has been working with all the clinic's various sections and specialties to obtain specific scheduling information such as the appropriate phone numbers and contact people, and reasonable expectations for appointment time frames. Soon the clinic will distribute to all Emory employees a section-specific scheduling card that will list the right numbers to call to make an appointment (referrals still will be required for specialists).

According to Willingham, in 2002 the Emory Clinic provided just 34 percent of applicable outpatient care to employees enrolled in Emory health plans. Since the clinic's departments are budgeted to accommodate a 5-10 percent increase in patient volumes in fiscal year 2004--and since the new University health plans for 2004 offer financial incentives for patients to see Emory doctors--Emory Employee Access comes at just the right time.

"The mission of Woodruff Health Sciences is 'making people healthy,'" said Brunn. "The clinic needs to make certain that we fulfill this mission in our own backyard: with our colleagues, coworkers and their families. It's the right thing to do."