How Physicians Can Reduce Patient Wait Times

Anna Webster, for HealthLeaders Media, December 1, 2010

According to provisions of the Accountable Care Act, an expected 40–50 million previously uninsured patients will be gaining healthcare access during the next 10 years. As a result, savvy physician practices are preparing for the increased demand with a team approach to care delivery that is designed to cut down wait times and optimize physician face time. 

The high demand for primary care doctors comes as no surprise to healthcare leaders. Ted Epperly, MD, president of the Leawood, KS-based American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), says the country will need to combat a "soaring backlog" of patient appointments by adding some 40,000 physicians over the next decade.

Wait times for an appointment to see a physician or specialist are already hitting record numbers, according to a survey by Merritt Hawkins & Associates. The survey, which includes responses from 1,162 medical offices in metropolitan areas, found the following average wait times by specialty in 2009:

Family Practice

  • Longest time: 99.6 days
  • Shortest time: 2.47 days
  • Average time: 20.3 days

Cardiology

  • Longest time: 104.4 days
  • Shortest time: 3.4 days
  • Average time: 22.1 days

Dermatology 

  • Longest time: 98.7 days
  • Shortest time: 2.5 days
  • Average time: 27.5 days

Orthopedic surgery

  • Longest time: 59.9 days
  • Shortest time: 2.9 days
  • Average time: 16.8 days

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