Physician Wait Times Vary Sharply Among Major US Markets

John Commins, for HealthLeaders Media , January 31, 2014

Physician appointment wait times tracked in the survey varied from as little as one day to over eight months, with an overall average in all metro areas and all specialties of about 19 days, the survey showed.

Mosley says the shorter waiting times seen in 2014 have a lot to do with the economy and the shift toward high-deductible health plans.

"We have lingering high employment, which means fewer insured people, many of whom are deferring seeing a doctor. And another area is a cultural shift as high deductable plans and high co-pays change people's mindsets. A lot of people no longer reflexively see the doctor when they have a problem now that they have more skin in the game. They think twice about it," he says.

"Nevertheless, even in cities with a large number of doctors per capita you are going to wait a few weeks before you see a doctor. In what other service arena does that happen? Last time I saw a lawyer she was open that day."

Mosley says the trend of shorter waiting times is about to be reversed as the growing numbers of people with health insurance collide with a rapidly aging physician demographic.

"(The Department of Health and Human Services) said that over the next seven years they estimate 250,000 doctors will retire. And we already know that the number of doctors over age 55 is 41%. So, then the wait times will dramatically go up," he says. "We see the storm coming and we need to be prepared for it."

John Commins is a senior editor with HealthLeaders Media.

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