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Quality 101 – Part 3: “T” is for Timely

In the first article in this series, we looked at the Institute of Medicine’s STEEEP acronym, which stands for care that is Safe, Timely, Effective, Efficient, Equitable, and Patient-Centered. Timely care is the second pillar.

Timeliness in a healthcare system prevents unintended and sometimes harmful delays in diagnosis, access, information/care transfer, stops (think of navigating your way through a hospital visit), and patient communication. The Institute for Healthcare Improvement describes timeliness by stating, “Unintended waiting that doesn’t provide information or time to heal is a system defect. Prompt attention benefits both the patient and the caregiver.”

It’s important that we give feedback to our healthcare systems on this area, regardless of whether we are patients experiencing delays, or whether we are working in a system that creates them. Some of the most common healthcare delays include:

  • Scheduling/Access: How long does it take to get an appointment with each provider? Is it easier to get an appointment for routine/preventive appointments, or for urgent needs?

  • Care Delays: Are people receiving treatments, tests, or referrals to specialists within appropriate timeframes?

  • Bottlenecks: At which times during a visit are patients waiting longest? If possible, take note of what is creating these delays – providers running behind? Patients showing up late? Not enough support staff?

  • Test Results: Especially with high-risk tests or procedures, such as biopsies, radiology, bloodwork, etc., it is imperative to get results back quickly to the provider and the patient. Form the patient perspective, every moment that passes waiting for a critical test can be agonizing. Delays in this area can actually even be considered patient harm, because anxiety is so harmful to our wellbeing.

Determining and addressing delays in the healthcare system will have a positive impact on both providers and patients. Next time, we’ll look at effective care. Please e-mail me with questions in the meantime.

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