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Apr 2017

Tick-Tock Grows the Average Wait to See the Doc

Most Americans have no problem seeing or hearing Dr. Oz and Dr. Sanjay Gupta, albeit on television or the radio. As for Americans seeing their own personal physician, many do not have as much luck. Putting financial issues aside, one of the biggest concerns of the Affordable Care Act was whether there would be enough doctors to handle the great influx of new patients into the U.S. healthcare system.

From a personal perspective, back in 2010 I used to be able to call my own physician for a yearly physical exam and be seen in roughly 30 days. Now I need to book an appointment to see my doc for a physical three months in advance. Now there are black-and-white data showing me that I am not alone in this modern-day frustration.

According to a new 2017 survey, the fears are coming to fruition. The study found in 15 major U.S. cities the wait time for new patients seeking an appointment with a physician jumped 30 percent since 2014. Conducted by national physician search firm Merritt Hawkins, the survey analyzed the responses from 1,414 doctors’ offices. Wait times for new patient appointments were observed in five medical specialty areas: cardiology, dermatology, obstetrics/gynecology, orthopedic surgery and family medicine.

According to the Merritt Hawkins’ press release, “[i]t now takes an average of 24 days to schedule a new patient physician appointment in 15 of the largest cities in the U.S., up from 18.5 days in 2014, 20.5 days in 2009 and 21 days in 2004, previous years the survey was conducted.”

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

The survey shows Boston, Massachusetts has the longest average new patient wait time out of the 15 metropolitan areas: 109 days to see a family physician, 52 days to see a dermatologist, 45 days to see an OB/GYN, 45 days to see a cardiologist and 11 days to see an orthopedic surgeon. The data suggest the average wait time in general for new patients in Boston is 52 days (nearly two months).

Average wait times for new patients in other major U.S. cities are: Dallas – 15 days, Philadelphia – 37 days, Portland – 28 days, Seattle – 28 days, Denver – 27 days and Los Angeles – 24 days.

The Merritt Hawkins survey also studied wait times for new patients in mid-size cities. The results were no better – in fact they were worse – with the average wait time in mid-size cities (population 90,000 to 140,000) being 32 days, or 33 percent longer than in the largest cities.

Merritt Hawkins study suggests Obamacare – which mostly expanded government-funded Medicaid – is tied to the failure of many Americans obtaining prompt healthcare. The survey also found doctors accepting Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement as payment is not in keeping with the number of patients who expect to use government health insurance as their third-party payor.

In the largest cities, the survey revealed the average rate of Medicare acceptance among doctors is 85 percent, while the rate is 81 percent in the mid-size cities. Physicians in the largest metropolitan areas are accepting Medicaid at a rate of only 53 percent, and, in the mid-size cities, 60 percent. The data suggest many Americans who are living in cities and have purchased insurance plans through the ACA are, therefore, not having access to healthcare even though they have insurance coverage.

The big problem is everybody should have seen this coming. A quick Google of “Americans wait time to see doctor” brings up articles warning of growing wait times from The New York Times and USA Today dated 2014 and 2009, respectively. Now, we are being told the wait times to see our doctors are even worse than three years ago with no solutions being offered by the parties who created the logistical mess. What we have, my fellow Americans, is a healthcare system with a failure to anticipate.

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