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Physician appointment wait times spike, highlight growing doctor shortage, survey finds

It seems 24 days is the new average to schedule a "new patient" appointment, with Boston seeing longest average delay, results show.

Beth Jones Sanborn, Managing Editor

Physicians are waiting longer and longer to meet and treat new patients, according to a newly released study from physician search and consulting firm Merritt Hawkins. Results show it takes 30 percent longer to schedule a new patient appointment in 15 major metropolitan areas compared to 2014.

The survey tracked 1,414 physician offices in 15 of the largest cities in the United States, measuring the average new patient appointment wait times in five different medical specialties: cardiology, dermatology, obstetrics/gynecology, orthopedic surgery and family medicine.

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

The survey showed 24 days is the new average to schedule a "new patient" appointment, an uptick from 18.5 days in 2014. That average had been on the decline, with  20.5 days the average in 2009 and 21 days in 2004.

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"Physician appointment wait times are the longest they have been since we began conducting the survey," said Mark Smith, president of Merritt Hawkins. "Growing physician appointment wait times are a significant indicator that the nation is experiencing a shortage of physicians."

Boston is experiencing the longest wait times, with patients waiting an average 109 days to see a family physician, 45 days to see an obstetrician/gynecologist, 45 days to see a cardiologist and 11 days to see an orthopedic surgeon. Boston's overall average for a new patient to get an appointment is 52 days, results showed.

[Also: Wait times for Medicaid patients creep up slightly]

Dallas boasted the shortest average wait time of 15 days. Other averages included 37 days in Philadelphia, 28 days in Portland, 28 days in Seattle, 27 days in Denver, and 24 days in Los Angeles.

Merritt Hawkins' 2017 survey also tracked 15 mid-sized metropolitan areas of approximately 90,000 to 140,000 people. Surprisingly, the average wait time in this class was 32 days, 33 percent longer than in the major cities, results showed.

Yakima, Washington showed the longest average wait time at 49 days while Billings, Montana had the shortest at 11 days.

"The 15 major metropolitan markets tracked in the survey have some of the highest physician-to-population ratios in the country, yet physician appointment wait times can still be prolonged in these areas.  The mid-sized metro areas have fewer physicians per capita than the major metro areas and correspondingly longer appointment wait times," Merritt Hawkins said.

Twitter: @BethJSanborn