As hospitals in the region grapple with staffing shortages, the University of Vermont Health Network (UVMHN) plans to expand its patient access center to ensure patients are seen in a timely manner.

The starts largest hospital, University of Vermont Medical Center, is facing a shortage of providers. Currently, they’re trying to recruit more than 90 doctors and competing with hospitals in the region to fill these spots.

Expanding the patient access center program would bridge the gap.

“The focus of the patient access and services center is to make things easy for their patients when they’re trying to schedule appointments. In fact, our purpose statement is to shrink the length of time that it takes for patients to secure their appointments or contact with a medical provider,” said Scott O’Neil, Vice President of Patient Access and Service.

O’Neil is in charge of patient access and service for the UVM Health Network, a 6-hospital system between Vermont and New York. He and his team piloted this program for a year and half to get patients the care they need as quickly as possible. 

“We’re looking through providers schedules. We’re looking for vacancies, cancelations, any potential open slots and then we’re reaching out to patients to see if they’re able fit those appointment slots. In the last 12 months, we have been able to schedule 9,000 patient appointments,” said O’Neil.

That’s 9,000 appointments that otherwise would not have been scheduled. One patient from Jericho, VT was sent to Central Vermont Medical Center for his appointment. He says it was longer than his normal drive by 10 minutes.

“I had to get some work done on my elbow. I was having some pain in my elbow. And trying to get an appointment at the main campus was a little bit tough,” said Anthony Pellegrino.

But UVMHN got him an appointment in a matter of days.

“I really found it kind of seamless. It really wasn’t a problem. I think UVM did a good job of finding me the right care as soon as possible,” said Pellegrino.

Now, UVMHN wants to expand the pilot program by investing in more people and technology for this work. 

“I think what we’ll see is in the year 2022, we’ll see some pretty good expansion of our capabilities. And as we continue to push towards digital means, that will allow patients to do some self-service themselves and they won’t even have to reach out to us to reschedule,” said O’Neil.

He says expanding the program will take few years. He adds it’s part of a broader effort increase access to health care in the state, especially as the pandemic delayed patient’s services.