Despite reporting high overall patient satisfaction, University Health Service — the primary health care center for the University’s campus community — has reported longer than average wait times this semester, causing concern for some students.
UHS Medical Director Robert Ernst, who has served as a physician and administrator for 11 years, said waiting times this semester have been particularly lengthy due to understaffing issues.
“I can tell you that wait time for next available appointment has been running more like a week instead of 24 hours,” Ernst said. “That puts a lot of pressure on same-day resources.”
Currently, one physician is on sabbatical, and a nurse practitioner and a physician assistant have left. This has put added strain on remaining staff members, especially with the traditionally busy cold and flu season approaching.
Engineering senior Kevin Kacan said he observed such understaffing in recent visits.
“They don’t have enough nurses to keep up with the demand for allergy shots and immunizations, so that’s a problem,” Kacan said. “And as someone that pays tuition to this University, it’s frustrating that the building itself is understaffed for the number of students there are and that we’re forced to go to hospitals and pay out-of-pocket expenses.”
Engineering junior Dylan Brown said he’s heard of others who have had lengthy waiting times at UHS.
“I do know people that go in because they’re sick and they can be there for hours and that is a big issue that they’ve experienced,” Brown said.
Not unlike her classmates, LSA junior Madeleine Rose Kimble said she had less-than-positive experiences with University Health Service. Kimble noted experiences when she was too sick to get out of bed and had to wait long periods to receive aid at UHS.
However, Ernst provided results from around 3,000 student surveys, which indicated that 91 percent of patients were either “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with the care they received.
Students who went to UHS with the common cold reported the lowest-rated overall scores, which Ernst said were still around 80 percent.
“We think that might be because it turns out people are feeling lousy and there’s really not much we can do about it,” he said.
Ernst attributed possible negative student perception to a bump in same-day visits to the clinic. The month of September, the number of patients in the same-day appointment clinic increased from 1,400 in 2012 to more than 2,000 in 2014. The number of students seen by appointment has remained the same since 2013.
The longest waits are associated with same-day visits, which leads to disgruntled students.
Ernst said one commonly trotted-out opinion from students and parents is that the quality of care at UHS is lower than what would be expected from a University of Michigan Health System hospital or clinic, or a local family medicine center.
“I feel really conflicted about that because I think that’s a general misunderstanding, because I’ve not heard that so much from actual users,” Ernst said.
Kimble said though she wishes service was improved, the staff is nevertheless competent.
“I do think the doctors themselves are very caring and very thorough,” Kimble said.
Ernst said health providers come to college campuses especially to focus on young adult well-being, and that this commitment shows through at UHS.
“It’s really more important for parents to know that people don’t go to practice in a college health service program unless they are really committed to taking care of students,” Ernst said.