Once upon a few months ago, if a student woke up with a sore throat and fever, they would have to argue themselves hoarse with the appointment desk in an attempt to be seen that day.
Now, with the Cowell Student Health Center’s new Open Access System, if a student wakes up feeling ill on a Monday, they can see a doctor that same Monday.
The Cowell Student Health Center has been operating under the new Open Access System since Aug. 31, 2009. This scheduling system allows students to see the same primary care provider for every appointment, and to make their appointments the day they want to be seen – rather than in advance. Before Open Access, students that wanted to be seen that day for illnesses were often seen at Urgent Care.
However, appointments with specialized doctors such as neurologists or nutritionists must be made in advance. And while the Open Access system may be convenient for the average sick student, concerns regarding schedule conflicts and appointment availability plague the new system. If you thought waiting on the phone at 9 a.m. for an appointment at the Cowell Student Health Center was tedious before, it could be that waiting-times will take a turn for the worse.
For the last two years Dr. Michelle Famula, the Director of Student Health Services, has been working with a management team to implement a new service delivery plan that would improve student health care.
“We conducted a strategic plan over the last two years to look at how students were using our services and how it impacted the care they received. We found that we had many students that were using the health center as their primary care source,” Famula said.
“The old system was that students came in and saw whoever was available, students were seeing five different doctors, there was no consistency. We felt that that was not giving students satisfactory services and was causing their care to be disjointed,” she said.
Famula worked with Medical Director Dr. Thomas Ferguson, Maureen Greenhagen and Patient Support Manager, Sandy Santiago, to find a system that would allow students to see the same care provider or provider team every time they came in.
“We looked at different appointment models from other health care centers and what models they used to improve continuity and consistency for students. We found that the model other centers were using gave a designated provider for every visit, that designated provider is [the patient’s] primary care giver,” Famula said.
Famula argued that if students were given an identified primary care giver, they could see that primary care provider for multiple services, thus coordinating their health care needs.
The UC Davis Cowell Student Health Center is not a laboratory rat in the Open Access model experiment. Santiago assures that other health care centers have used the Open Access to the patient’s benefit.
“A number of different college health centers and community centers that use this system to allow students to be seen the day that they call get better care. What other schools experienced with this system is that it makes increased access to health care for students,” Santiago said.
Famula reassures students that the ratio of health care providers to patients will protect appointment availability.
“There is a mathematical aspect to successful Open Access models, if you have too many patients, it’s not going to work, you’ll run out of appointments. We recognized that we had enough staff to be able to meet the ratio of patients to make this really work,” Famula said.
Both Santiago and Famula feel that the best time to call to make an appointment is before noon. Famula said they plan to make more appointments slots available in the afternoon as well.
Santiago said the average wait time over the phone is two minutes. A California Aggie reporter put this to the test and called at 9 a.m., and was put on hold for exactly three minutes.
Some students have hope that the new system will be helpful. For Gabriel Solis, a senior political science and history double major, the Open Access system is nothing new.
“I guess I’m comfortable with the [Open Access] system because it’s familiar. Cowell operates under the same policy as my personal physician back home, which eliminates longer waiting periods to see a doctor,” Solis said.
With the flu season approaching, Santiago feels that the Open Access system will allow more students to be vaccinated in a shorter amount of time. Unless students receive their flu vaccinations during one of the designated Flu Vaccination Clinics at the Memorial Union, they must make an appointment to receive the vaccination. If you are already seeing the doctor, regardless of whether it is a routine check-up or a broken wrist, you can ask to be vaccinated at the same time.
Famula hopes that the new Open Access system will help students receive effective health care.
“A student health center is there to prevent illness from being a barrier to getting your degree. It’s about keeping you healthy enough to do your academic program, that’s why we’re here,” Famula said.
For more information on the Open Access system, flu vaccinations, or medical information, visit the Cowell Student Health Center website at healthcenter.ucdavis.edu.
MEGAN ELLIS can be reached at email@example.com.