WBB's Thought Leadership

Doctor Wait Times in Major U.S. Cities Increase 30% in Three Years

March 27

A recent study polling 1,400 physicians in 15 major U.S. cities revealed that patients are waiting 24 days on average to schedule an appointment with a doctor.

A cause for these delays may be physician shortage. By 2030, the pool of Americans aged 65 and older is expected to grow by 55%—experts stress the need to train more doctors to address the aging patient population.

Excerpt: “The time to schedule an appointment has jumped 30% in 15 U.S. metropolitan areas from 18.5 days in 2014 amid a national doctor shortage fueled by aging baby boomers, population growth and millions of Americans with health insurance. The survey by MerrittHawkins, a unit of healthcare staffing firm AMN Healthcare, polled more than 1,400 physicians looking at average wait times among five specialties: family medicine, dermatology, obstetrics/gynecology, orthopedic surgery and cardiology.”

The longest wait to see a doctor was in Boston, where the average wait was 52 days  to schedule an appointment with a family physician, dermatologist, cardiologist, orthopedic surgeon or obstetrician/gynecologist. ‘Growing physician appointment wait times are significant indicator that the nation is experiencing a shortage of physicians,’ said Mark Smith, president of MerrittHawkins. … The Association of American Medical Colleges last week came out with its latest report, projecting a shortage of between 40,800 and 104,900 doctors by 2030. At that time, the AAMC said there will be a shortage of between 7,300 and 43,100 primary care doctors. The AAMC report indicated an aging population is fueling the need for more doctors.”

“‘As our patient population continues to grow and age, we must begin to train more doctors if we wish to meet the healthcare needs of all Americans,’ AAMC president and chief executive Dr. Darrell Kirch said. ‘ By 2030, the U.S. population of Americans aged 65 and older will grow by 55%, which makes the projected shortage especially troubling. As patients get older, they need two to three times as many services, mostly in specialty care, which is where the shortages are particularly severe.’”

“Insurers are pushing more of a team-based approach to healthcare to keep a lid on healthcare costs as the population ages, with the federal government shifting more Medicare dollars away from fee-for-service payment to value-based care models. But most of the new models use a physician as a quarterback even as doctors are handing off more responsibilities to physician assistants and nurse practitioners. … In the Boston area, it takes 109 days just to see a family physician, the Merritt analysis showed.”

Source: Forbes

WBB Take: The U.S. is ill-prepared to meet the increased healthcare demand of an aging population. As a growing number of baby-boomers have transitioned to old age, the need for healthcare services has climbed sharply. The current number of providers is insufficient to meet demand, and as more providers retire and shift from being primarily suppliers of healthcare services to being consumers, the projections suggest an unsustainable lack of providers.
Several approaches have been proposed in mitigation, including expanding the roles of nurses, increasing clinician training capacity, and greater use of technologies such as telehealth. An additional approach that can be used in parallel, is to greatly expand and integrate the use of process improvement to reduce waste in healthcare. Some studies estimated that approximately 30% of current medical expenditure is waste, and imply that effective Monitoring & Evaluation (M&E) and Quality Assurance and Process Improvement (QAPI) can significantly improve the safety, effectiveness, and efficiency of healthcare.


Jessica Say and Matthew Loxton

Jessica Say and Matthew Loxton

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