Deficient to Innovative: Rebuilding Access to Care


Following a wave of physician departures, a small rural health system was struggling to provide its community with access to primary care. Staff were fielding hundreds of calls per week from patients expressing confusion or upset that they were unable to secure appointments. As management worked to solve the staffing crisis, they needed operational and communication resources to continue service and to guide patients through the various options for care in the interim. 


Like many health systems nationwide, the hospital was facing an increase in primary care needs. The uptick in unmet appointment requests also magnified the existing problem of equitable access to care within the community. To gain a better understanding of experiences, we conducted listening sessions with the community, focusing on their perceptions of the issue. 

Their overwhelming sentiment was that their physicians were departing en masse and patients were no longer able to receive care at their local clinic. We also interviewed system leaders who reported they were having trouble advising patients on other ways they could receive care, including appointments with temporary locum practitioners and treatment at a newly established transitional care clinic. 

From those findings, we developed a triage communications process, directing patients to different scheduling procedures based on their needs. To activate this, we crafted a core message platform that served as the foundation to a range of communications tools – rack cards, patient letters, reference guides for appointment scheduling and general primary care. We developed a comprehensive social media strategy, developed a radio campaign to advertise the options and provided scripts for patient phone calls. 


Equipped with tailored messaging and operational tools, the hospital was able to respond to patients’ appeals with practical steps to receiving primary care. The system preserved its sterling reputation within the region and effectively ended the access-to-primary-care crisis with previously indignant patients now feeling well cared-for and able to schedule appointments.


As the healthcare industry rapidly evolves, rural hospitals will be able to adapt and continue serving their communities by:

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Creating Communications Processes

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Crafting Versatile Messaging Tools

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Interviewing Patients and Leaders


Hurdles to Overcome During Staff Shortage:

  • Communicating change to rural patient population 
  • Avoiding reputational damage 
  • Managing massive influx of patient appeals
  • Ensuring equitable access to care during increased demand 


weekly patient calls fulfilled with appointment instructions 

Maintained status

as trusted local healthcare leader


legacy as community partner preserved

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