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Survey Finds Long Wait Times for Doctor Visits

Americans wait an average of 18.5 days (January 29)

A survey of physician practices in 15 metropolitan areas across the country, which was conducted before the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act expanded coverage, found that the average wait time for a new patient to see a physician in five medical specialties was 18.5 days.

The longest waits were in Boston, where patients wait an average of 72 days to see a dermatologist and 66 days to see a family doctor. The shortest waits were in Dallas, where the average wait time is 10.2 days for all specialties, and just 5 days to see a family doctor.

A Texas-based health care and physician search consulting firm spoke with 1,399 medical offices between June and November 2013 in five different areas of specialization: cardiology, dermatology, obstetrics/gynecology, orthopedic surgery, and family practice. Researchers called the practices and asked for the first available appointments for new patients needing routine care, such as a heart check-up or a well-woman visit.

The good news is that wait times have decreased slightly, down from an average of 20.4 days when the survey was last conducted in 2009, and down from 20.9 days in 2004. The slight improvement was attributed to practices employing more mid-level providers, such as nurse practitioners; to better health care information technology to help with scheduling; and to an increase in the number of urgent-care centers.

The bad news is that fewer doctors are accepting Medicaid. An average of 45.7% of surveyed physicians take Medicaid coverage, down from 55.4% in 2009. Acceptance rates varied widely, however, ranging from 73% in Boston to 23% in Dallas. An average of 76% of surveyed physicians accept Medicare.

Source: Kaiser Health News; January 29, 2014.

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