As students return to campus, they once again begin the challenge of juggling classes, a new schedule and a healthy social life. Walking this academic tightrope might take a toll on one’s health and, as the semester rolls on and stress levels rise, develop into an occasional visit to the university park health center.
Instead of serving as a reliable beacon of support and care, however, the University Park Health Center has earned a somewhat lackluster reputation among the university community. According to CollegeProwler.com, approximately 66 percent of surveyed USC students rated the health center as being of “mediocre” quality. Only 17 percent of students rated it high. Taking these concerns into consideration, the health center’s success depends on students voicing their opinions in order to improve the patient experience.
In fact, improving the patient experience involves, or actually requires, student input. With plans for a new health center to be built, along with a multitude of exciting changes throughout the university, this is the prime time to get involved in the future of USC’s health services.
“Generally, the feedback we get [about the health center] is not spectacular,” said Maya Babla, a senior majoring in communication and public diplomacy who co-founded Emergency Medical Services of USC. “Students complain of long wait times, the fact that you have to make an appointment and go in to get a referral for a specialist, and the hours.”
Also worrisome to students is the issue of confidentiality, mostly given the center’s limited lobby space and lack of privacy.
The center is open during a small four-hour window for urgent care on weekends during the academic year. For a university where the majority of students remain on-campus during the weekends, it seems strange to reduce medical services on these days. Weekdays, the center closes at 5 or 7 p.m., depending on the day, after which students need to contact an advice nurse or the Department of Public Safety. The health center is also closed entirely on weekends during the summer semester, a time during which a number of students live and study at USC.
However, Dr. Larry Neinstein, executive director of the health center, said that the hours are sufficient for students.
“We are one of the only health centers in the country that is open seven days a week, which is very appropriate for the kind of campus we have.”
That fact, in addition to the after-hours accommodation, Neinstein said, is unique for university health services. Having a 24-hour health center would not only be impractical, he said, it would drive up costs, such as the current $234 health center fee students pay each semester.
It’s important to note that the health center has been taking strides to improve patient satisfaction. Neinstein said the center’s website, which was last redesigned about five years ago, is due for a major overhaul in the coming year. Neinstein highly encourages students to get involved in the planning process, from changing the look and feel of the website to adding new content,
For the last year and a half, the health center has also provided the “My Student Health Record” function on the center’s website, an online portal that allows students to schedule appointments and correspond with a regular clinician, complete forms prior to an appointment, and view their immunization records entirely online. This streamlines the paperwork and provides access to important information without having to visit the center. The health center’s website has additional resources to help students apply self-care for minor illness or injury. It includes a mental health support system and a vast educational reference database on health topics, among other resources.
Even with these features, USC can do more to improve the student-patient experience. Still, the students have to take advantage of the outlets available to them.
“One thing I’d love to see is greater feedback mechanisms in place at the health center,” Babla said. “If students have complaints after a poor visit, it’d be great if there were a system in place for them to voice their concerns.”
Currently, patients can contact the center with general comments via an online contact form or feedback forms at the center. The administration also conducts monthly analyses of the center’s specific departments to test for student-patient satisfaction. In addition, the USC Student Health Advisory Council, which is a part of the health center, facilitates feedback from the student community by holding open meetings every month.
Neinstein strongly encourages students to use the center’s online resources and provide feedback from both positive and negative visits, and said the new health center, which is “a wish and a priority of the new president, Max Nikias,” would be built behind the Lyon Center. The first phase is complete and now requires the approval of the Board of Trustees. It would not open its doors for two and a half years.
Expressing student opinion is crucial to the current center’s efficacy. With the health center making tangible improvements to its services, the benefit to students can be maximized if we do our share of pitching in. Although the center already provides a number of services and support mechanisms, there is ample room for improvement, much of which begins with sharing our concerns directly with the health center.
Nadine Tan is a junior majoring in business administration (international relations).