Patient wait times in America: 9 things to know

U.S. healthcare requires a lot of waiting.

Overcrowded emergency departments in the U.S. have left some patients waiting more than one hour to be seen by a physician.

In a survey of 15 large U.S. metropolitan areas conducted by national physician search firm Merritt Hawkins, researchers found the average patient waited approximately 29.3 days to see a family medicine practitioner in 2016, an increase of approximately 50 percent since 2014.

Here are nine things to know about patient wait times in the U.S.

First-time appointments

1. It takes an average of 24 days to schedule a first-time appointment with a physician — a 30 percent increase since 2014, when the average wait time was 18.5 days, according to The 2017 Survey of Physician Appointment Wait Times and Medicare and Medicaid Acceptance Rates.

2. Of the 15 largest metropolitan areas surveyed, Merritt Hawkins researchers discovered patients in Boston experienced the longest wait time to schedule a first-time appointment with a physician in 2016: 52 days on average. Patients in Dallas experienced the shortest wait time: 15 days on average.

3. Broken down by location and specialty, patients in Philadelphia visiting an obstetrician-gynecologist for the first time between Jan. 9 and Feb. 13 experienced the longest wait time at 51 days, according to the Merritt Hawkins survey. By comparison, researchers discovered patients in Los Angeles and Minneapolis experienced the shortest new-patient wait times to see an obstetrician-gynecologist at 12 days, on average.

4. According to a survey by the same national physician search firm, the average wait time for a new patient seeking an appointment with a dermatologist in a major metropolitan area was 32.2 days. Patients in Philadelphia waited the longest for an appointment (78 days), while patients in Miami experienced the shortest average wait time (11 days).

Emergency department services

5. A ProPublica investigation identified Maryland as the state with the longest average ED wait time for patients in 2016 at 53 minutes, followed by the District of Columbia (52 minutes); Puerto Rico (45 minutes); Massachusetts (38 minutes); and Delaware (33 minutes).

6. ProPublica issued a second report analyzing the states with the shortest ED patient wait times on average in 2016. Colorado and Utah topped the list at 14 minutes, followed by Montana and South Dakota (15 minutes) and Wyoming (16 minutes).

7. Seven hospital EDs in the country had a wait time of zero minutes between April 2015 and March 2016, according to data available on CMS' Hospital Compare database.

Specialty services

8. Researchers evaluated five specialties with the shortest wait times in 2016. General dentistry clocked in the shortest average reported wait time at 8 minutes and 27 seconds, followed by child psychology and radiation oncology (10 minutes and 59 seconds); plastic surgery (12 minutes and 28 seconds); and chiropractic medicine (12 minutes and 35 seconds). Data presented by healthcare database company Vitals suggests more difficult-to-manage specialties, such as emergency medicine or surgery, may have longer wait times.

9. According to a Merritt Hawkins survey, the average amount of time patients in 15 major cities waited to see a cardiologist was 21.1 days. Patients in Boston were found to experience the longest wait time at 45 days, while patients in Dallas and Houston, Texas, waited 12 days, on average.

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