Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Health Center Takes Steps to Lower Wait Times

In response to persistent criticism over long wait times and inaccessibility, officials at the Student Health Center say they are implementing measures to more quickly attend to a high volume of patients.

Administrators at the health center said that they are planning to hire new staff and restructure the center’s operations to give greater attention to patients who are seriously ill.

Some students have alleged that health center personnel are unhelpful in scheduling appointments, both over the phone and in person, and that they sometimes make it difficult for students to be seen promptly.

Henry Shikani (COL ’08) said the he had to wait around 25 minutes to see a doctor during a recent visit to the health center. Patrick O’Neill (SFS ’08) said that when he called the health center to make an appointment, he was told to wait until the following week, but was able to see a nurse practitioner in 10 minutes when he arrived in person.

James Welsh, assistant vice president for student health services, said that recent delays have been caused by a temporary decline in staff at the health center as well as the onset of the cold and flu season.

Welsh said that the health center is in the process of hiring new professional staff, including a sports medicine physician who will start this week, a nurse practitioner specifically practicing women’s healthcare and a replacement for a full-time physician who recently left.

James Marsh, the medical director at the health center, said that the center will establish a “cold and sore throat fast track” to free up more time for appointments for more seriously ill students.

Marsh also acknowledged that students face difficulties in getting appointments at the health center.

“It’s something that we’re constantly working on,” he said.

Marsh said that the health center tries to reserve half of one doctor’s schedule for walk-in appointments each day because scheduled appointments often fill up early in the morning for urgent cases. If all appointments are full, he said that receptionists triage individual cases according to urgency. Marsh said that most students receive appointments within a few days and that students with urgent cases see doctors or nurse practitioners see the same day they contact the center

Marsh added that determining which cases are most urgent is difficult because the front desk at the center is not staffed entirely by nurses.

“No clinic works that way,” he said.

He said that because receptionists are not all medically trained, and because patients contacting the center are often accessing healthcare independently for the first time, poor communication can lead to waits for students who should be seen quickly.

“It’s not always immediately clear that symptoms are serious,” Marsh said. “Sometimes we get it wrong.”

Shikani also said that the health center should be open later because many students have class schedules that make it impossible to make appointments during business hours. The health center closes at 6 p.m. on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and at 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday and Thursday.

But Marsh said that when the health center did not receive enough patients when it used to stay open during evening hours to justify staying open late. He added that decisions about staff and hours were complicated due to financial considerations and because the health center is owned by MedStar Health, which also owns Georgetown University Hospital.

Marsh also said that because Georgetown does not charge a student health fee, the Student Health Center has to collect revenue, which “adds a whole layer of complexity” in the form of paperwork, which he said is not required at most student health centers.

Still, despite complaints, Marsh said that the number of students that the health center sees has increased each year over the past four years, and is now between 15,000-16,000 students per year.

Beyond hoping for a shorter wait, O’Neill also said that he wishes the staff at the health center were friendlier.

“The front desk should realize that a lot of students, who are coming in for the first time, will come in even if they just have a headache,” O’Neill said. “They need someone to be nice to them.”

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