Physician Shortage + More Patients = Longer Wait Times: Survey

Every day, thousands of patients with a variety of medical needs, ranging from emergency care to non-urgent elective medical services, have to wait for a doctor. For new patients joining an ever-growing appointment list, the experience can be more daunting.

Add to that an aging physician workforce, rising burnout and shortages across the country, and the outcome could be bad for both patients and their doctors.

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According to a recent report from employment agency AMN Healthcare and physician consulting subdivision Merritt Hawkins, the average time it takes a new patient to make an appointment with a doctor in the United States has increased significantly, by 8% since 2017 and 24. % since 2004.

The report, “2022 Survey of Physician Appointment Wait Times and Medicare and Medicaid Acceptance Rates,” suggests it now takes an average of 26 days to schedule a new doctor’s appointment in the 15 cities that have the most extensive health care markets in the United States. forming states.

This includes Atlanta, Boston, Dallas, Denver, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Philadelphia, San Diego and Washington, DC.

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“Increasing demands from an aging population coupled with a static and declining supply of physicians, physician burnout, retirement and staff turnover were major challenges that escalated patient wait times prior to COVID,” said Tom Florence, president of Merritt Hawkins. Medscape medical news. “The pandemic has accelerated these issues and now retaining physicians has become an even greater challenge.”

The researchers estimated data from 1,034 physician practices in five medical specialties — cardiology, dermatology, obstetrics-gynaecology, family medicine and orthopedic surgery — over a 10-week period between March and mid-May 2022.

The survey attempted to simulate a patient experience when scheduling a doctor’s appointment for common non-emergency medical conditions, such as a physical exam, a heart check, a skin exam, a knee injury, or a gynecological exam.

“This is the only study tracking physician availability through the ‘secret shopper’ technique,” Florence said. “It provides practical data on what patients might experience if they had to find a doctor instead of estimating the theoretical number of doctors a community needs.”

The investigation yielded the following additional key findings:

  • The average waiting time for a cardiology appointment increased by 26%, from 21.1 days in 2017 to 26.6 days. Wait times for cardiology appointments are longest in Portland, Oregon, at 49 days, and shortest in Dallas, at 13 days.

  • Waiting times for dermatologists have increased by 7% since 2017, from 32.3 days to 34.5 days. The average wait time to see a dermatologist ranges from 72 days in Minneapolis to 9 days in Philadelphia.

  • The average waiting time for an orthopedic surgeon has increased by 48%, from 11.4 days in 2017 to 16.9 days. The average wait time for orthopedic surgery is longest in San Diego, at 55 days, and shortest in Washington, DC, at 5 days.

  • Compared to 2017 reports, family medicine is the only specialty with a lower average wait time for appointments. As a result of the introduction of telemedicine and emergency care centers, the average waiting time for a GP medical appointment has decreased by 30%, from 29.3 days in 2017 to 20.6 days. At 44 days, Portland, Oregon, has the longest wait time to see a primary care physician, while Washington, DC, has the shortest, at 8 days.

  • In all five specialties within the 15 major metro markets, Portland, Oregon, has the highest average wait times for new patient appointments at 45.6 days, while New York has the shortest at 17.4 days.

To improve patient wait times, Florence recommends restructuring doctors’ work patterns to minimize the time doctors spend entering data, documenting their work, requesting pre-authorization, or dealing with payers.

“Other options include offloading work to other HCPs, such as NPs and PAs, as appropriate and expanding the physician staff through telehealth,” he said. “We would need fewer doctors if we could become healthier as a nation by implementing preventive medicine and promoting better overall health through diet, exercise and general health management.”

Oladimeji Ewumi is a freelance writer based in Lagos, Nigeria specializing in healthcare, life sciences and medical artificial intelligence.

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