Providers, make it easier for patients to find you

For healthcare to run more efficiently in America, consumers need to be better armed with information on where to get the most appropriate care or treatment. But we still haven't connected all the dots and streamlined that process yet.

Instead, we turn to what should be Plan B, the hospital emergency department. Up to 27 percent of all ER patients, or 100 million people, could have gone elsewhere, according to an article in last month's issue of Health Affairs. But did those patients know they had other options?

Maybe not. All too often, hospital emergency rooms seem to be not the last resort, but the path of least resistance. Most people know where their local hospitals are.

But they don't always know what other local options are available, especially if they are "invisible."

Just last month, I noticed Righttime Medical Care, a branch of the Maryland-based urgent care chain, for the first time in a spot I've driven past hundreds of times over the past few years. It turns out they handle everything from coughs and colds to sprains and broken bones between 7:30 a.m. and midnight, every day.

A mailing from MinuteClinic alerted me that neighborhood branches of the retail clinic are trying to drum up flu shot visits before cold/flu season ramps up.

Then I learned from a local hospital circular that Johns Hopkins Community Physicians runs several offices nearby. An online search uncovered gold-- doctors who were still accepting new patients. And the closest branch is only a five-minute drive away in an anonymous looking office building. Had I not looked at the hospital newsletter, I would never have known they were in my neighborhood.

Providers, do yourselves a favor and make it easier for consumers to find you. I think the time has come for a chart of providers to be compiled and sent to every household and posted online. That chart would list all medical care options in the neighborhood, perhaps within a 25 mile radius. This would include retail clinics, urgent care centers and yes, local emergency rooms. A separate list could be a rundown of local physicians, by type. Somehow, with the decline of the telephone book, we may have drifted away from presenting clear care options to consumers.

Columns of information to the right would list contact information, hours, and what examples of conditions are diagnosed and treated. That way, someone with a broken leg would not turn up at a retail clinic, which is not equipped to handle breaks.

It would also be helpful to list the conditions that require immediate emergency care. This chart would be one way to create more educated consumers and help them identify the best care match for their symptoms. Who is ready to take up the charge and help  connect healthcare customers with otherwise invisible providers? - Sandra