Wait Times for Doc Appointments Increasing Nationwide

Mark Crane

January 31, 2014

It takes longer to schedule a physician's appointment in Boston, at 45.4 days on average, than in 14 other major cities, according to new study by Merritt Hawkins, a national physician search and consulting firm.

Boston also had the longest wait time in previous studies done in 2004 and 2009. The average wait time to see a family physician in Boston was 66 days, which is more than triple the 19.5 days on average it takes to see a family physician nationwide.

In Boston, it takes 72 days to see a dermatologist, 46 days to see an obstetrician-gynecologist, 27 days to see a cardiologist, and 16 days to see an orthopedic surgeon.

Dallas has the shortest average wait time, at 10.2 days for all physicians and only 5 days for a family physician, said the Irving, Texas–based firm.

Researchers surveyed 1399 practices last year in cardiology, dermatology, obstetrics/gynecology, orthopedic surgery, and family practice in 15 major metropolitan areas: Atlanta, Georgia; Boston, Massachusetts; Dallas, Texas; Denver, Colorado; Detroit, Michigan; Houston, Texas; Los Angeles, California; Miami, Florida; Minneapolis, Minnesota; New York City; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Portland, Oregon; San Diego, California; Seattle, Washington; and Washington, DC.

The longest reported wait time to see a physician was 256 days for a dermatology appointment in Minneapolis. The shortest reported wait time to see a physician was 1 day in multiple specialties and markets.

Other average physician appointment wait times include 28 days to see a cardiologist in Denver, 49 days to see a dermatologist in Philadelphia, 35 days to see an obstetrician-gynecologist in Portland, 18 days to see an orthopedic surgeon in San Diego, and 26 days to see a family physician in New York City. Physician appointment wait times tracked in the survey varied from as little as 1 day to more than 8 months, with an overall average in all metro areas and all specialties of about 19 days, the survey shows.

"Finding a physician who can see you today, or three weeks from today, can be a challenge, even in urban areas where there is a high ratio of physicians per population," Mark Smith, president of Merritt Hawkins, said in a release. "The demand for doctors is simply outstripping the supply."

The survey also shows the Medicaid and Medicare acceptance rates among physicians in certain specialties in these cities. The overall Medicaid acceptance rate is 45.7%. Boston has the highest rate of Medicaid acceptance, at 73%, and Dallas has the lowest, at 23%.

Boston also has the highest rate of Medicare acceptance by physicians, at 98%, whereas Minneapolis has the lowest, at 38.2%. The cumulative average rate of Medicare acceptance was 76%.

Many physicians are not accepting Medicaid because it often pays less than what it costs physicians to provide care, according to Smith. "Medicaid patients, and patients with private insurance, often seek 'convenient care' in hospital emergency departments when they cannot access office-based physicians in a timely manner," he said in the statement. "The problem of physician access could become more pronounced as millions of previously uninsured patients obtain coverage through the Affordable Care Act.

"Having health insurance does not always ensure access to a physician," he said. "More physicians will need to be trained, and access to other types of providers expanded, to ensure that health care delayed does not become health care denied."

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