Lead author Dr. Rubina Heptulla, chief of the division of pediatric endocrinology and diabetes at The Children's Hospital at Montefiore and Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University in New York, said she treats children with type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, hyperlipidemia and precocious puberty -- a complex matrix of conditions associated with pediatric obesity.
"With obesity at epidemic levels, we are seeing an increase in referrals for treatment," Heptulla said in a statement. "That's why it's important to cut wait times so that we can diagnose and deliver treatment -- some of which may be life-saving -- as soon as possible."
Heptulla and colleagues analyzed appointment data from January 2008 to November 2011 and conducted detailed reviews of operational data, the scheduling system and the call center that schedules appointments. Each doctor had an allotment of new appointments, but they were often used for follow-up appointments, leaving new patients waiting longer for their appointments.
To break this bottleneck, the researchers ensured doctors used the new appointments for new patients and had other staff members manage follow-up appointments, Heptulla said.
The study, published in the journal Pediatrics, found practical changes to patient scheduling -- revamping scheduling systems, balancing supply and demand, and developing contingency plans to handle high demand -- could reduce the time it takes to get a doctor's appointment by more than 80 percent.
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