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Boston Leads Nation in Physician Wait Times

John Commins, for HealthLeaders Media, May 6, 2009

Boston, the home of leading medical schools and hospitals, a high physician population, and universal healthcare coverage, also leads the nation's 15 largest cities with the longest waiting times to schedule a doctor's appointment, according to a new survey by physician recruiters Merritt Hawkins & Associates.

The survey of 1,162 medical offices also found that only 55% of physicians, on average, accept Medicaid patients because of the low reimbursements and filing hassles.

The survey tracks the average time needed to schedule a doctor appointment in five areas: cardiology, dermatology, obstetrics/gynecology, orthopedic surgery, and family practice.  

In Boston, it takes 70 days to see an obstetrician/gynecologist, 63 days to see a family physician, 54 days to see a dermatologist, 40 days to see an orthopedic surgeon, and 21 days to see a cardiologist, according to the survey.

Philadelphia and Los Angeles are next on the list, with average doctor appointment wait times exceeding 45 days in some specialties, followed by Houston, Washington, DC,  San Diego, Minneapolis, Dallas, Miami, New York, Denver, Portland, Seattle, Detroit, and Atlanta. Physician appointment wait times tracked in the survey varied from as little as one day to as long as one year.

"Finding an available physician can be challenging today, even in large urban areas where most doctors practice," says Mark Smith, president of Irving, TX-based MHA.

In 2006, Massachusetts implemented mandated health coverage for all residents, insuring hundreds of thousands of previously uninsured patients. Demand for doctors greatly increased, and even though Massachusetts has more physicians per population than any other state, patients are encountering more difficulty in scheduling physician appointments.

Smith says accessing physicians would be even more problematic for many patients nationwide if national universal health insurance is implemented.

Many physicians not accepting Medicaid

The survey also tracks which medical offices are accepting Medicaid. Minneapolis has the highest rate of Medicaid acceptance at 82%, Dallas the lowest at 39%. The overall Medicaid acceptance rate for all metro markets was 55%.

Many physicians are not accepting Medicaid because it often pays less than what it costs physicians to provide care.

"Merely having medical coverage does not always ensure access to a physician.  Many doctors simply can no longer afford to see Medicaid patients," Smith says.


John Commins is a senior editor with HealthLeaders Media.

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