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Patient wait times show notable impact on satisfaction scores, Vitals study shows

The average time a person waits for a doctor is 18 minutes, 35 seconds, down a minute from last year, group says.

Jeff Lagasse, Associate Editor

When patients aren't languishing in a doctor's waiting room, it's good news not just for health consumers but for the doctors themselves, who receive better patient satisfaction scores the less their patients wait, according to a new study by healthcare consumer engagement group Vitals.

It found a strong correlation between wait times and doctors' star ratings. Physicians with five stars, the highest doctor rating on Vitals, had a 12-minute, 33-second wait on average. Doctors with a one-star rating, the lowest, had a wait time average of 33 minutes, 4 seconds.

"Wait time alone is probably not the cause of the bad rating," said Vitals Founder and Chairman Mitch Rothschild in a statement. "More likely, a doctor who can't watch the clock may not be effectively managing other parts of the practice that impact the patient experience."

[Also: Physician appointment wait times spike, highlight growing doctor shortage, survey finds]

Nationally, the average time a person waits for a doctor is 18 minutes, 35 seconds. Compared to last year, that's a decrease of 1 minute, 16 seconds. Wait times are down about 13 percent since Vitals first started reporting on the data in 2009.

Alternative care facilities may be taking the burden off primary care doctors, the report found. Urgent care centers, which welcome walk-ins, have an average wait time of less than 30 minutes. Retails clinics have about a 30-minute wait time, with prescriptions filled on-site. Telemedicine services often offer on-demand appointments, and products such as home diagnostic kits can help a consumer self-diagnos ailments ranging from strep to HIV in fewer than 20 minutes.

Some primary care doctors, feeling the pressure from those facilities, have expanded hours, adding weekend and evening hours for patients who work, which the report said has reduced the weekday crush at most offices.

[Also: Electronic consult program helps Los Angeles County health system slash wait times, need for specialist care]

Broken down by city, wait times in Milwaukee, Wisconsin were the shortest this year, at 13 minutes 22 seconds. El Paso, Texas had the longest wait times -- 25 minutes and 57 seconds.

In looking at specialities, Vitals found that dentists had the shortest average wait times at 8 minutes 27 seconds. Chiropractors made patients wait the longest, at 12 minutes 35 seconds -- longer than plastic surgeons, radiation oncologists and child psychologists.

Twitter: @JELagasse