Students are seeking ways to improve the effectiveness and accessibility of the online appointment request system at the Student Health Center.
Students are seeking ways to improve the effectiveness and accessibility of the online appointment request system at the Student Health Center.

Undergraduate and graduate students met with Assistant Vice President of Student Health Services James Welsh Oct. 24. to discuss enhancing the university’s current online appointment scheduling system for the Student Health Center.

The student delegation comprised Georgetown University Student Association President Clara Gustafson (SFS ’13), Vice President Vail Kohnert-Yount (SFS ’13) and two representatives from the Graduate Student Organization, President Paul Musgrave (GRD ’16) and Vice President of Advocacy Carina Minardi (GRD ’16).

According to Minardi, the initiative began last year as a joint project between the GUSA executive board and GSO and then was passed down to Gustafson and Kohnert-Yount.

“The meeting was a joint effort with GUSA and GSO because this is an issue that affects a great number of graduate students as well as undergraduates,” Musgrave said.

The university implemented an online appointment request system called “My MedStar Connect” in April 2012, which allows students to request appointments, renew a prescription and review test results.

To set up an account, students must acquire a personal identification number by submitting a request online and then set up an account through the program’s website. Minardi said the new system is important, especially for graduate students whose university-provided health care plans mandate that they use the Student Health Center.

“We only get our health care through the health center, so before we can get any sort of other treatment, we have to go to the clinic,” she said. “This is a big problem for students who live off campus, who have to go there prior to going to any [emergency room] or anything, so not getting an appointment is incredibly difficult and frustrating.”

Though the new request system is meant to make scheduling appointments easier, Kohnert-Yount said it needs to become more user friendly.

“You need to submit a request, then you wait a week for a pin number, then you need to pick up the PIN number in person, then it’s still not connected to your NetID,” she said. “It’s just a very long and confusing process.”

Students can obtain pin numbers either by submitting an online request or being a patient at the Student Health Center.

She added that the system is not sufficiently advertised to be useful to students.

“[The system] is buried deep in a random paragraph on a remote page on the website,” she said. “Very few people on campus know about it, much less use it.”

Approximately 200 students — less than 1 percent of the student body — have enrolled in the program, according to Welsh.

Musgrave agreed that increasing awareness about the program is key.

“We will also be educating students. We really hope to make this a priority in a way that I don’t think it has been for the health center, administration or MedStar,” he said.

“It’s one of those things that when you’re receiving the care versus administering the care — small changes and knowing how the system works can really change how you use it.”

Kohnert-Yount said she also wants to increase awareness about the program to ensure that the system is efficient and effective, especially because it can be difficult to secure an appointment at the health center over the phone.

Kohnert-Yount cited her own experiences with the health center as her reason to push for change.

“Recently, I had a bad throat infection, and I called the Student Health Center and was put on hold for 20 minutes, so I hung up. I called again, was put on hold for 20 minutes again, so I hung up again and tried a last time,” Kohnert-Yount said. “After being put on a hold again, I gave up and just left a message. No one has gotten back to me about it yet, and this was a few weeks ago.”

She later decided to go to an off-campus doctor that night.

Other students recalled their own difficulties in securing an appointment with the student health center.

Anna Hernick (SFS ’16) had to choose between waiting five days for an appointment or sitting in a waiting room for two hours.

“I was told that there were no ‘sick’ appointments available until Tuesday of the next week,” Hernick said. “The woman told me I could try to get a walk-in appointment if I didn’t want to wait five days to see a doctor. The next day, I headed to the Student Health Center in the morning and waited for two hours before I saw a doctor.”

Despite these complaints, Welsh said that the Student Health Center is fully staffed.

“The Student Health Center is staffed with seven full-time or part-time physicians, five full- or part-time nurse practitioners and two full-time registered nurses,” he wrote in an email.

The center had a temporary reduction in its staff after two physicians went on leave and another two resigned, but Welsh said that those positions have now been filled.

“The new physicians should be seeing patients within the next week or so, pending full credentialing by the hospital,” he wrote.

Though frustrated with the appointment request process, Musgrave complimented the center’s service.

“The quality of care offered at the clinic is very good. It may just be a clinic, but the doctors are fantastic, the nurses are nice and the whole medical care part has been fantastic,” he said.

Students agreed with the initiative to push for a more effective online scheduling system that was posted on IdeaScale by Kohnert-Yount Oct. 13. Thus far, the idea has received 238 votes.

“I believe there definitely should be an online booking system that is available at all hours,” Aeysha Chaudhry (NHS ’15) said. “That would save students time instead of waiting on the phone for 20 minutes to make an appointment.”

Kohnert-Yount added that the online scheduling system would help students schedule more timely appointments.

“Being able to be seen that day is so important, especially when you’re sick,” Kohnert-Yount said. “We hope that with increased awareness and usage of the online scheduling system, students will be able to fit appointments as soon as possible around their schedule.”

Minardi addressed more generally how she feels the problem can be solved.

“What I think really needs to happen is that the communication between students and the health center needs to improve,” she said. “It needs to be a collaborative effort, but the willingness to serve the student population is there. And that’s very important.”

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