Feature | March 26, 2015

Wait Times for Doctors Decrease as More Americans Enter Healthcare System

Expansion of alternative care facilities reducing wait times for primary care doctors

March 26, 2015 — The 6th Annual Vitals Index revealed that the national average for wait times for doctors dropped to 19 minutes and 16 seconds, a full one-minute shorter than the 2014 wait time average.

As millions of Americans entered the healthcare system for the first time through the Affordable Care Act, analysts warned of a coming strain on the healthcare system. One prediction was overcrowded offices, resulting in longer waits for patient care. Yet instead of going up, wait times are actually coming down.

Several factors could be contributing to the decrease. Alternative care facilities, like urgent care centers and retail clinics, could be taking the burden off primary care doctors. Physician extenders, like nurse practitioners and physician assistants, may also be easing doctor caseloads. Even the rise of concierge medicine can be diverting patients from traditional group practice care. In fact, wait times for primary care doctors, the doctors Americans see the most, were generally down more than one minute (1 minute, 11 seconds) in a year-over-year comparison.

“It appears that the growth of supportive health services is increasing the overall efficiency of care for patients,” said Heyward Donigan, CEO of Vitals. “This is great news as more Americans receive health coverage and enter the system, post-reform.

While wait times are decreasing overall, the study found wide variations by doctor specialty. Dentists (13 minutes, 31 seconds) and plastic surgeons (15 minutes, 22 seconds), whose patients often pay out-of-pocket, have the shortest wait times out of the 61 types of specialists Vitals analyzed. Emergency doctors (24 minutes, 41 seconds) and pain management specialists (24 minutes, 52 seconds) had some of the longest wait times.

Beyond the type of doctor, where you see the doctor matters, too.  Out of the 50 largest cities across the United States, Portland edged out Seattle for the shortest wait time at 15 minutes, 48 seconds in 2015. Minneapolis, Seattle, Milwaukee and Omaha were also in the top 5. For the fourth year in a row, the longest wait time was reported in El Paso, Texas, at 26 minutes, 21 seconds. Memphis, Miami, New York and Las Vegas were also at the bottom of the ranking.

For states, New Hampshire led the nation with the shortest wait time at 15 minutes, 4 seconds. The remaining top states with shortest physician wait times include Wisconsin, Maine, Minnesota and Vermont. Alabama edged out Mississippi this year as the state with the longest wait, averaging 23 minutes, 25 seconds. Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas and Tennessee were also in the bottom five.

Vitals’ annual Physician Wait Time Report, now in its sixth year, is compiled from patient-reported wait times. The Vitals Index is designed to provide information about the current state of the doctor-patient relationship.

For more information: www.vitals.com

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