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Physician Wait Times Vary Sharply Among Major US Markets

John Commins, for HealthLeaders Media, January 31, 2014

Physician appointment wait times tracked in a Merritt Hawkins survey varied from one day to more than eight months. The average wait in all metro areas and specialties is 19 days. Boston has the longest waits (45 days); Dallas had the shortest (10).

A survey on wait times for physician office visits [PDF] in 15 cities across the nation could be a harbinger for access to healthcare providers under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

First the bad news: Even before Obamacare's expanded coverage really kicks in, patients hoping to schedule an appointment with a physician in 2014 should expect to wait for several weeks in most parts of the country. Those on Medicaid, stand about a 50–50 chance of being seen by a doctor.

Now the good news: The wait time for an office appointment in 2014 is 18.5 days in five specialty areas—cardiology, dermatology, obstetrics/gynecology, orthopedic surgery and family practice—an 11% decrease from 2004 when the average wait was 20.5 days.

What's not clear, however, is if this trend will continue as an estimated 16 million people gain health insurance coverage under Obamacare.

All of this data comes from Irving, TX-based physician recruiters Merritt Hawkins, which every five years conducts a survey of nearly 1,400 physicians' offices in 15 large cities to get an idea of the wait times for office visits.

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