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IHS Announces New Standards for Patient Wait Times

by Capt. Michael Toedt, M.D., IHS Chief Medical Officer

A circular was recently signed that establishes new standards for the Indian Health Service for wait times of outpatient visits in direct care IHS facilities. The new mean appointment wait times will be 28 days or less for primary care appointments and 48 hours or less for urgent care appointments. The new initiative also directs that wait time measurements at all direct service primary care and urgent care facilities be recorded at each appointment.

IHS will evaluate data to track the patient care experience as part of the Improving Patient Care (IPC) program. The data collected across IHS' direct service sites will be used to continually improve patient wait times. The Improving Patient Care (IPC) program was implemented to improve the quality of health care and to provide greater access to care for American Indians and Alaska Natives using the Patient Centered Medical Home model. The IPC program continues to provide training and technical assistance, supporting Indian health facilities to achieve success in improving patient access to care, implementing clinical quality enhancements and promoting patient satisfaction.

IHS wants to reduce the amount of time that patients wait for a primary or urgent care appointment. We know that the patient experience is heavily influenced by time spent waiting for provider care. Not only is the patient experience negatively impacted by longer wait times, but increased wait times also affect perceptions of information, instructions, and the overall treatment provided by physicians and other health care givers.

IHS is targeting the full implementation of Agency-wide standards for wait times by December 31, 2017, including monitoring of the outcome data. However, IHS recognizes that some Service Units may already have the capability to measure and report progress. Other service units may need assistance and more time. The IPC program will provide resources, tools and technical assistance to service units to support the implementation of the wait time standard.

Outreach to IHS staff will be conducted so they may be armed with the tools needed for successful implementation.

The wait time standards are part of our ongoing effort to focus on the quality priority to achieve excellence in everything we do, and to assure a high performing health care system.

Related Content:
Quality and Colleagues in Indian Health
IHS Quality Framework

Capt. Michael Toedt, M.D., IHS Chief Medical Officer
Capt. Michael Toedt, M.D., serves as the Chief Medical Officer of the Indian Health Service. As the CMO, Dr. Toedt is IHS's lead expert on medical and public health topics, giving technical advice and guidance to IHS staff throughout the country on American Indian and Alaska Native health care policies and issues.