The pandemic has changed many things about our culture and daily life. Even with a likely shift to an endemic state and more “normal” days ahead, many things have changed in the past two years that will not change back to how they were. Among them is the old employment model of emphasizing in-person work. In today’s market, if employers want to attract and retain talent, they must offer flexible work options.

I wonder if this shift in the marketplace at large might hold the key to an issue that has been plaguing healthcare for years, far before the pandemic began. How do we encourage patients to return to their doctor to continue to receive the care they need?  In so many areas of healthcare, from cancer to heart health to chronic conditions, early detection and maintenance are critical to the long-term health of patients.  Yet, the numbers of patients who return to their provider for continued care remain low. 

Could patients want from their doctors what modern employees are looking for from their employers: flexible options that meet their needs? While research tells us that there are a variety of factors that can impact a person’s ability to see their doctor regularly, that does not let healthcare leaders off the hook! We must emphasize a patient-centered approach to medicine. Everything we do is in service to the patient. Too often we set up systems that work for doctors, hospitals, and facilities, but not for the patient. This provider-centric approach is harmful to the health of those we serve, and we as leaders must focus on what we can do to make patients more comfortable coming to see their doctor.

Here are some strategies I recommend to place patients at the center of our work:

  • Flexible appointments: Patient-directed scheduling offers appointments at times that work for the patient, including nights and weekends, rather than a “Here’s-your-appointment-time, take-it-or-leave-it” approach. Providers can also offer multiple ways to schedule: by phone, computer, cell phone, apps, or self-scheduling platforms.

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Author: Rand O'LearyRand O’Leary, FACHE most recently served as the PeaceHealth Chief Executive for the Oregon Network. Rand joined PeaceHealth in 2014 and had oversight for operations in Oregon at Sacred Heart Medical Center, RiverBend in Springfield, University District Medical Center in Eugene, Cottage Grove Community Medical Center in Cottage Grove and Peace Harbor Medical Center in Florence. Rand is an experienced healthcare executive and leader, seasoned by over 20 years of leadership in Surgical Services, Neurosciences, Cardiovascular, Ambulatory and Physician Practice Operations during tenures at Borgess Medical Center in Kalamazoo, Michigan, a 425-bed tertiary referral and teaching hospital and member of Ascension Health and the 537-bed St. Joseph Mercy Hospital in Ann Arbor Michigan, the flagship hospital of the St. Joseph Mercy Health System and a member of Trinity Health.