For physician practices, the pressure's on to offer patients same-day appointments

It might not be easy to implement, but some physician practices are guaranteeing patients same-day appointments in order to compete with a growing number of retail clinics, urgent care clinics and telemedicine services.

There’s been a steady increase in the time it takes for new patients to get doctor appointments, due in part to a physician shortage, a Merritt Hawkins survey found earlier this year. Another survey from the staffing firm found that the average time to schedule a new patient appointment has increased by 30% since 2014 in 15 major metropolitan areas and now stands at 24 days.

RELATED: Survey finds new patients wait longer for appointments

At a time when many consumers balk at the idea of waiting days or weeks for any kind of service, giving patients fast and easy access to a doctor can be a competitive edge.

And CVS Caremark just upped the ante when it comes to competing for convenience-seeking consumers with its announcement that it is buying health insurer Aetna and will expand health services at its retail pharmacies. 

In fact, same-day appointments have gone from “a cool idea” to an imperative, Ateev Mehrotra, M.D., an associate professor of healthcare policy and medicine at Harvard Medical School who researches healthcare innovation, told Health Affairs.

The article details the efforts of two organizations. Pittsburgh-based Allegheny Health Network guarantees same-day appointments to patients in southwestern Pennsylvania who call in by 11 a.m. And Johns Hopkins Wilmer Eye Institute, which began open access scheduling in 2015 through its network of more than 150 ophthalmologists, also offers a 24-hour access guarantee.

RELATED: Automated appointments help physician practice fill its patient schedule, save staff time

Studies show mixed results when it comes to pulling off same-day appointments, though. Larger practices with more doctors to juggle work hours are more likely to find success. 

Practices may find it easier to extend hours in the evenings or weekends by hiring a part-time doctor or a locum tenens to cover additional hours, according to the report. The downside is that patients are less likely to see their own primary care doctor.