March 27, 2017

The 'waiting game' keeps getting longer for new patients, survey finds

Daily Briefing

Wait times for new patients to see a doctor in large metropolitan areas have increased significantly in recent years, according to a Merritt Hawkins report released last week.

Report details

For the report, researchers at Merritt Hawkins, a physician recruitment and staffing firm, called 1,414 randomly selected physician offices in 15 large metropolitan areas, as well as 494 offices in 15 mid-sized metropolitan areas. During the calls—which took place between Jan. 9 and Feb. 13, 2017—the researchers asked how long it would take to schedule a hypothetical, non-emergent, first-time appointment.

The researchers surveyed physicians from five specialties:

  • Cardiology;
  • Dermatology;
  • Family medicine;
  • Obstetrics-gynecology; and
  • Orthopedic surgery.

Key findings

On average, the researchers found that, in large metropolitan areas, individual practices said new patients could schedule an appointment in 24.1 days. That number is up 30 percent from an average wait time of 18.5 days in 2014. Of the large markets surveyed, Boston had the longest average new patient wait time, at 52.4 days, while Dallas had the shortest, at 14.8 days.

The researchers found the average wait is longer in mid-sized markets, where individual practices said new patients could schedule an appointment in 32 days on average. Among mid-sized markets, Yakima, Washington, had the longest average wait, at 48.8 days, and Billings, Montana, had the shortest average wait, at 10.8 days.

According to the report, wait times varied among specialties. The researchers found the average wait time in 2017 for:

  • A cardiologist was 21.1 days in large markets and 32.3 days in mid-sized markets;
  • A dermatologist was 32.3 days in large markets and 35.1 days in mid-sized markets;
  • An OB-GYN was 26.4 days in large markets and 23.1 days in mid-sized markets;
  • A family medicine doctor was 29.3 days in large markets and 54.3 days in mid-sized markets; and
  • An orthopedic surgeon was 11.4 days in large markets and 15 days in mid-sized markets.

Discussion

Merritt Hawkins President Mark Smith said, "Physician appointment wait times are the longest they have been since we began conducting the survey." He added, "Growing physician appointment wait times are a significant indicator that the nation is experiencing a shortage of physicians."

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The researchers said the increase in wait times could have resulted from an increase in coverage rates under the Affordable Care Act, suggesting that coverage expansions do not necessarily translate to increased access to care, Becker's Hospital Review reports.

Moreover, the researchers said the findings suggest individuals could be experiencing more significant delays in appointment scheduling in areas with a lower ratio of physicians to patients than the areas included in the survey. The researchers said, "If access to physicians in metropolitan areas with a large number of physicians per capita is limited, it may be reasonable to infer that physician access could be more problematic in areas with fewer physicians per capita" (Jones Sanborn, Healthcare Finance News, 3/22; Merritt Hawkins report, 3/20; Cohen, Becker's Hospital Review, 3/20; Rappeleye, Becker's Hospital Review, 3/20).

The changing physician workforce

The changing physician workforce

Concerns about physician burnout have made national headlines, and the stresses facing health care providers continue to grow. Vendors that want to work with physicians need to understand this new clinical environment before they can succeed.

Check out the infographic to get a breakdown of the changes that are impacting the physician workforce. You'll also learn four new rules of engagement to help suppliers and service firms realign their offerings with the realities of health care providers.

Download the infographic

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