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Patient access and patient accessibility help healthcare systems deliver high quality patient-centered care. As patients pay more and wait longer for care, access and accessibility are becoming significant criteria that they will use to choose which healthcare systems they use.

In this article, we will look in more detail at patient access and patient accessibility, why they matter to healthcare organizations, and how technology is helping more people to access the healthcare services they need, when they need it, and at a lower cost to the service provider.

The current healthcare landscape

While the USA has one of the most sophisticated and advanced medical systems in the world, it also faces challenges:

  • with the rising costs of healthcare
  • with meeting legislative and commercial imperatives on demand for services
  • with having a national healthcare system fragmented across a network of public and private providers to the point that ‘healthcare navigation’ services are becoming as necessary as they are desirable

To meet some of the challenges, the healthcare industry has turned to technology, especially for digital front door solutions – which is not surprising since roughly 44% of consumers rank availability for appointments and greater 40% expecting coherence between offline and online experiences as their highest priorities

Digital strategies for patient access and engagement

Digitalization of healthcare services in the USA is advanced, with most leading hospitals offering multi-channel access to their services in the forms of:

  • Digital front door services such as online patient portals
  • Self-service care options such as online symptom triage and diagnostic tools
  • Telehealth services making use of call and video in place of onsite consultations
  • Integrated EHR system solutions that facilitate the secure flow of patient data between payment, provider and patient services

Additionally, software-based automation and the use of artificial intelligence solutions are augmenting these services for faster processing times, reducing staff workload and offering patients the convenience of coherent remote access to their healthcare services across multiple channels.

And that’s great. Technology-based patient access solutions offer better patient services at lower cost with greater efficiency.

Access vs. accessibility: an uneven relationship

Access, however, does not equal accessibility. What accessibility means in a digital space for healthcare is something that is still being shaped by hospital systems, advocacy groups, lobbyists, legislative and regulatory bodies.

Patients can use self-service options to access services 24/7

Patient engagement options support access for a wide array of users, including those with disabilities


Patient access vs. patient accessibility | Patient outreach and digital front door

Here’s how ADA explains the current legislation that applies to healthcare providers:

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act require that health care providers provide individuals with disabilities full and equal access to their health care services and facilities.

There is a moral and regulatory imperative for healthcare services to uphold these principles in a digital space.

Patient disability and access to healthcare services

Let’s first put things in perspective. 40 million people in the USA have reported some type of disability with 15% of people with disabilities reportedly three times less likely than people with no disabilities to go online in general.

This poses important access issues for digital patient portals. People with disabilities, especially visual or motor impairments, can find it difficult to comfortably use graphical user interfaces such as online forms.

Digital front desk services should be accessible to the widest possible range of people in their care community. Technology-based solutions must therefore enable not just access but facilitate accessibility for as many people as possible.

Most hospitals in the USA, for example, still offer patient services via phone-based contact centers to make sure all patients have baseline alternative access to front desk services if they are unable to use or access digital patient portals.

Phone-based patient access is necessary but for patients that are unable to access online services this typically means:

  • Requiring patients to call only during clinic hours and depend on call back systems if available
  • Frequent long call queues, especially if the hospital or clinic is large (or just flat out busy)

So, people who can’t use online services are at a disadvantage: it’s harder for them to reach their healthcare organization. And not only is that unfair, it could also negatively impact their health if other patients are more easily able to schedule appointments.

Older patients, in particular, tend to develop visual and motor impairments which might prevent or discourage them from accessing online services. It’s not that they don’t want to use them, it might just be that they can’t. A study of telemedicine use among adults reports 37.0% of people surveyed had used telemedicine in the past 12 months, with 43% of people aged 65+ stating they had used a telemedicine service. This means that older patients are more likely to want to use remote patient access services than any other age group!

How AI is helping to improve patient access

Technology can, however, help improve patient access. One of the ways it can be applied is on channels traditionally considered analog such as phone calls.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is a powerful tool that is getting lots of attention today with the rise of ChatGPT, Dall-E and many other AI tools and applications. But its applications in healthcare do not get the same level of attention despite the powerful ways in which it is being used to improve patient access.

Voice AI is a subset of AI that uses natural language processing technology to allow voice assistants to interact with callers in a conversational manner. Voice assistants are able handle routine call-based transactions autonomously, freeing up the time of human agents to focus on other tasks.

While there are many applications of AI within healthcare, voice AI has shown itself to be particularly helpful in improving patient access. With voice AI, for example, hospitals and other healthcare organizations are able to automate routine calls to their contact centers.

Voice AI improves patient access in important ways:

  • It offers instant call answering
  • It’s a scalable service which means every call is answered no matter how many incoming calls are being received
  • It means key services can be available 24/7
  • It can offer multi-lingual support at the fraction of the cost of a comparable human resource
  • Patients with disabilities can call their healthcare clinic to access automated patient triage or symptom checkers

Services using voice automation allow patients to call and talk to a voice assistant to access patient services such as:

  • Appointment scheduling and management
  • Prescription ordering
  • Clinic information

Voice AI makes it possible to offer self-service options over the phone that are easier to use compared to other channels and interfaces with which patients with specific disabilities might struggle.

Inbound access and outbound outreach

Voice automation covers both inbound and outbound call processes. Voice assistants can, for example, call patients to remind them of upcoming appointments and enable them to manage that appointment on the same call. For patients with visual impairments, call-based notifications are easier to understand than SMS notifications.


Technology has certainly made healthcare services more accessible for patients but vendors, healthcare systems and organizations still need to consider the potential for technology to improve accessibility as well as access.

Learn more about digital patient access automation

If you would like to know more about how Talkie.ai’s voice assistants could help your organization deliver better patient access, get in touch.