Provider News

How We Are Improving Families’ Scheduling Experience and Access at Seattle Children’s

September 6, 2023

Seattle Children’s is prioritizing making it easier for families to access care, especially in clinics with high demand and long wait times. This work includes making wait times more transparent to both families and referring providers.

We are pleased to tell you about some of the recent changes we have made and improvements that are in the works for the coming year.

Making the most of every available appointment slot

Thirteen Seattle Children’s specialties recently undertook a four- to six-month overhaul of their scheduling systems to optimize appointments scheduled. These include Endocrinology, Adolescent Medicine, Nephrology, Otolaryngology, Orthopedics and Sports Medicine and others. As a result:

  • Appointment slots are now filled more efficiently, with fewer appointments going unfilled
  • Families can self-schedule for the first time
  • If a sooner appointment becomes available, families are automatically notified

Today, families who use MyChart’s self-schedule feature are typically being seen 20 to 50 days sooner on average.

Reducing the number of missed appointments

New tools have helped us correctly identify families who are more likely to miss an appointment and then step in to offer additional support. In 2023 to date, we have averted more than 8,000 missed appointments. Assistance usually takes the form of transportation help, childcare services at the hospital or clinic or switching the appointment from in-person to telehealth.

Helping patients stay in primary care longer

Wait times have shrunk in some clinics, but not all. The challenge of recruiting pediatric specialists in fields experiencing provider shortages is ongoing with limited ability for us to impact provider supply.

Where we have greater influence is on the demand side, i.e., helping our PCP colleagues to manage patients in primary care longer. Patients who receive appropriate care from their PCP can avoid or safely delay specialty care.

Seattle Children’s has created dozens of algorithms and other clinical resources that address common pediatric conditions to support PCPs’ care of their patients. Along with provider education and outreach events we offer, these resources help improve access to Seattle Children’s for those patients who need us most.

Being more transparent with families

Starting in October, patients with a referral submitted to Seattle Children’s will have the ability (if consent has been provided) to receive scheduling updates via text. Texts will be sent at multiple points, i.e., when the referral is received, when it’s time to schedule, etc., and will differ depending on whether clinic access is good, medium or poor. Currently, only patients in a handful of clinics receive referral scheduling texts, and those messages are standard rather than access-dependent.

Being more transparent with families doesn’t solve the problem of long waits, but the experience for families is better. Following scheduling changes in Dermatology in 2022, wait times dropped from 170 to 127 days, but the more significant improvement is that families now know within one to two days if an appointment is available and, if so, are scheduled promptly.

Added transparency with providers

Our new Access Dashboard for providers offers monthly updates on wait times in 19 ambulatory clinics. It was introduced to providers this spring.

Upcoming improvements in the coming year

By June 2024 we plan to offer self-scheduling to 7 more specialties (for a total of 20), including outpatient Behavioral Health and the Autism Center, which have some of our highest rates of MyChart activation and telehealth usage — meaning we expect a strong improvement in families’ ease and speed of scheduling.