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Physician Wait Times

By March 27, 2017Commentary

In a new survey conducted earlier this year in 15 major metro areas and 15 medium-sized cities Merritt Hawkins ascertained appointment wait times and acceptance of Medicare or Medicaid in five specialties–cardiology, dermatology, OB-GYN, orthopedics and family medicine.  (MH Report)   This was the fourth such survey, the most recent being in 2014.  The average wait time in the 15 large markets is 24 days, up 30% from 2014.  In the mid-sized markets, the average wait time is 32 days.  Boston is the king of wait times, at 52 days, while Dallas is the lowest at 15 days.  In large markets, the wait to get an appointment with a family medicine doctor, probably the most common, averages 29 days up 50% from 2014, with a high of 109 days in Boston and a low of 8 days in Minneapolis.  In mid-sized cities, the average wait for a family medicine appointments is 56 days.

In regard to other specialties in major cities, the wait time for cardiology was 21 days in 2017, compared to 17 in 2014; for dermatology it was 32 days compared to 29 in 2014; for OB-GYN, the average was 26 days in 2017, but 17 days in 2014, although the wait time was a similar 27.5 days in 2009; and for orthopedics 11 days compared to 10, which is actually down from 2009 and 2004.  The average rate of physician Medicare acceptance is 85% in large markets and 81% in mid-sized markets.  For Medicaid, the averages are 53% in major metro areas and 60% in mid-size ones.  This average Medicaid rate in large cities has been somewhat stable over the last 13 years, while the Medicare one is up from 77% in 2014.  The Medicaid acceptance rate should concern policy-makers, especially given the rapid expansion of the program and that payment rates for providers aren’t going to go up, if anything may decline given state budget pressures.  An interesting combination for a future survey would be wait time for Medicaid appointments in major metro areas, where many of these patients reside.

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