Few things affect quality of life more than access to health care.
And access is good in Pennsylvania, according to the people who know it best: patients.
In a statewide poll conducted in September by Susquehanna Polling & Research, 85 percent of state residents traveled within 15 miles for care; 52 percent traveled fewer than 5 miles for treatment from primary care physicians.
“Overall, a large percentage of patients are accessing the services of their primary care physician when they want and within a short travel distance,” said Dr. Karen Rizzo, president of the Pennsylvania Medical Society and a practicing Lancaster County physician. “As expected, (people in) rural communities may need to travel slightly farther, but likely this is similar to other businesses, such as stores and repair shops, that service the lesser-populated areas of Pennsylvania.”
Care was also reported to be timely. Of 700 people polled in higher-population areas, 81 percent said they received care in their requested time frame; of 515 people polled in rural communities, 68 percent received care in their time frame.
“There are great pockets of need across our state, but … most Pennsylvanians are able to get the primary care they need, when and where they need it,” said Michael Fraser, executive vice president of the medical society, also known as PAMED.
Sometimes access has less to do with proximity and more to do with technology.
At Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, a stroke telemedicine program allows a patient entering a distant emergency department to be instantly assessed by Hershey’s experienced stroke team via live two-way audio and video.
“It’s an extremely successful program involving some 14 community hospitals so patients with stroke have face-to-face contact within minutes with a neurologist who specializes in stroke to determine the best care,” said Dr. A. Craig Hillemeier, dean of the Penn State College of Medicine and CEO of the medical center and health system.
The medical center, known for its highly ranked children’s hospital, is also broadening access by partnering with other systems. Awaiting regulatory approval is its collaboration with Harrisburg’s PinnacleHealth System.
On Aug. 1, Lancaster General Health joined University of Pennsylvania Health System, promising area residents access to the Philadelphia university hospital’s range of services and expertise.
While residents might question how mega-mergers ultimately affect their ability to get care, Dr. Gus Geraci, PAMED’s consulting chief medical officer, said competition is designed to enhance access. Still, he cites a Pittsburgh merger that went awry.
“We have several competing health systems for the consumer/patient, which is a good thing because they want to be better than their competition at providing access,” Geraci said. “But in some communities, consolidation can be a problem if a dominant provider refuses to accept some insurance (plans) sponsored by the competition.”