After all the years devoted to becoming a subspecialty eye surgeon, Christopher T. Westfall, M.D., F.A.C.S., naturally prefers to work with patients who need his oculoplastics skills.
But the director of the Jones Eye Institute also wants UAMS to survive this era of financial uncertainty for hospitals, so when his surgery clinic is not full, he sees patients who need routine eye exams.
“I know how to fit eyeglasses and provide comprehensive eye care,” he said.
Seeing patients outside his specialty contributes to a UAMS-wide effort to improve patient access to its clinics. Westfall is leading by example; he chairs the UAMS Patient Access Committee.
The committee was formed in March 2014 to find ways to increase patient volume, a high priority for Chancellor Dan Rahn, M.D. Before Westfall was named chair, Medical Center CEO Roxane Townsend, M.D., and then-College of Medicine Dean G. Richard Smith, M.D., concluded that patient access to UAMS clinics was a significant barrier.
This required operational changes, ensuring that physicians, who also teach and conduct research, had enough room in their schedules to see patients.
The Patient Access Committee’s goal is for all primary care clinics to schedule appointments within one week of the request and specialty clinics to schedule within two weeks. The committee turned out to be one of the most effective on which he has ever served, Westfall said.
“It was powered by the engine of Dr. Townsend and Dr. Smith, and all eight cylinders — faculty and staff working — were firing,” he said.
The number of billed visits to UAMS increased by 16 percent in the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2015, which covers the committee’s most active period, said Holly Naramore, director of the Project Coordination Office and a member of the Patient Access Committee. While the Affordable Care Act and Epic implementation contributed to the increase in patient volume, the committee can share the credit, Westfall said.
“If you can imagine an institution as large and as busy as UAMS increasing access by 16 percent — that’s a significant effect,” he said. “And it is because we had the right leadership in the room, which was the power necessary to effect change.”
The committee gathered data across all clinical areas so that it could see which clinics were meeting the goals for seeing patients within one and two weeks. To address operational efficiencies, the committee assessed clinics’ and doctors’ utilization of time, resources and the number of patients seen. The data also reviewed doctors’ allotted time for research and education to determine if this was in balance with their clinical responsibilities.
After identifying areas where operational efficiencies could be improved, the Patient Access Committee members delivered their results to the department chairs, who were able to make changes so their faculty had adequate time to see patients.
The committee asked doctors to see patients outside their specialty areas as time allows, and urges doctors to loosen the expectation that they will have all medical records of patients before seeing them.
“Many of the traditions of academic medicine require reassessment to allow UAMS to be successful,” Westfall said. “And our success demands that we pay attention to the needs of our patients.”
Making an Appointment
Some clinics allow patients to make appointments directly without a referral from their primary care physician. Appointments may be scheduled by calling (501) 686-8000 or online at uamshealth.com/MyChart, for UAMS patients.
MyChart is a free Internet-based service that gives patients access to all of their UAMS medical records. MyChart is available through a secure Internet connection at http://www.uamshealth.com/MyChart. With UAMS MyChart, patients can:
- Request medical appointments
- See their medical information from the
- MyChart electronic health record
- See test results
- Refill prescriptions
- Send a secure electronic message to their doctor or nurse
When appointment requests are made, UAMS staff will work with patients to ensure that their appointment needs are met. In addition, UAMS is happy to assist patients with requests for their medical records. For more information, contact the UAMS Release of Information office at
To ensure efficient care, patients previously seen at clinics or hospitals not affiliated with UAMS should always bring their medical records, including lab results, and images such as computed tomography (CT) and Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI). For more information, visit http://uamshealth.com/patientsandguests/appointments.