Since eliminating walk-in services at University Health Services this summer to cut down on wait times and better serve students, UHS officials are continuing to transition into implementation of the program during the academic year.
The new policy, enacted on May 13, requires students to make an appointment to see a UHS health specialist, and no longer offers walk-in care except in serious, circumstantial cases. Though the system was designed to more efficiently provide health care services to students, UHS is still in the process of getting accommodated with the new system.
Since eliminating walk-in visits, UHS director Robert Winfield said UHS is still adjusting to managing the larger student body during the academic year, as opposed to the lower population of campus residents in the summer when the program was first launched.
“We really didn’t have any experience with the kind of volume we see,” Winfield said. “During the summer and spring it was really slow.”
In addition to high demand from patients, UHS is undergoing personnel changes. Winfield said six providers — which accounts for a quarter of the staff — are out of the office for various reasons, or have recently retired.
However, efforts are being made to accommodate for the school year’s increase in demand and to smooth the transition into hiring new staff members.
“We are doing rapid cycle quality improvement, which is if we find something that’s not working, within a week we try and fix it,” Winfield said. “We tweak the schedule or the way the waiting room is working.”
Winfield said the high volume of walk-in demands coupled with low satisfaction with the waiting experience led to the change in service offerings to appointment-only.
“The outcome of the larger walk-in efforts of the past two years resulted in the inability to control the distribution during the day, and more and more people would be coming in in the afternoons or late mornings and we simply couldn’t handle the volume,” Winfield said. “So the waits became worse, and the satisfaction by undergraduates became much worse.”
While the appointment system is still in its early phases, Winfield said it takes six to twelve months to get back up to speed, and he is optimistic that their objectives can be met.
“The ultimate goal is to get the students in who need to be seen right away, promptly, and to have them have a quality, delightful experience,” Winfield said. “Making changes every few days to get it right with the rapid cycle quality improvement is getting closer to getting it right. But I think that it’s going to take a good part of the semester to really feel that we got this under control.”
The change to an appointment-only system is similar to other Big Ten schools, including University of Iowa and Northwestern University, where similar procedures are followed.
Winfield said the new system will be more efficient because providers can pace themselves, emphasizing that urgent walk-ins will still be seen.
“You have to have the capacity to see somebody who has a terrible strep throat, has been up all night vomiting, who has an impossibly bad migraine — they can’t wait two or three days,” Winfield said. “Those people have to be seen.”
Despite UHS’s emphasis on increased patient satisfaction, many students, like LSA sophomore Cassie Kooiker, have expressed frustration with the long wait between scheduling an appointment and the appointment itself.
“I was having a severe, unexplained pain in my jaw last week and I came to make an appointment, but I guess it was serious enough to let me see a nurse,” Kooiker said. “I missed all of my classes that day waiting to give them my info, to see a nurse and to get my vitals taken, and the nurse resorted to WebMD to ask me about my symptoms.”
She added that she found scheduling an appointment through UHS to be more of a burden than a help, and will seek outside assistance in the future.
“I plan on finding a family doctor in the area for any issues I may have in the future because UHS was just too big of a hassle,” Kooiker said.
However, Engineering senior Curtis Reilly said he found the switch to be accommodating after cutting his finger recently.
“I went to the nurse station and had to wait for 20 minutes because of the people in front of me, but I got out of there within one and half hours and (saw) the doctor pretty fast,” Reilly said.
Central Student Government president Manish Parikh, a Business senior, said CSG has not received any complaints about the new appointment system, adding that it takes time for new programs to run efficiently.
“Whenever a new system is adopted, there are naturally kinks along the way, but I think UHS is responding well,” Parikh said. “We remain firmly committed to acting in the best interests of our students and are waiting to hear from them. UHS has reiterated that they will be sending out a survey to measure the student response and we will act accordingly.”