More on Patient Engagement

Travel and wait times for healthcare are the worst among professional sectors, Altarum report says.

When travel and wait times were quantified using hourly wage to measure "economic cost of time spent" costs averaged $89 billion dollars annually.

Beth Jones Sanborn, Managing Editor

An analysis released by nonprofit health research and consulting institute Altarum shows Americans are traveling farther and waiting longer for their healthcare than they are for any other professional service, and it's costing millions.

Altarum analyzed data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics' American Time Use Survey from 2006 thru 2017 and found that both healthcare travel and wait times were the longest compared to other sectors such as legal services, personal care, vehicle repair or even government activities like obtaining a permit/license.

Notably, wait times for healthcare services were significantly higher than other service categories. The next closest category was veterinary services, and healthcare wait times were shown to be more than twice as long, the analysis said. Moreover, on days when a patient got care, travel and waiting accounted for more than 50 percent of the time spent actually receiving care, i.e. 45 combined minutes traveling and waiting versus 76 minutes receiving care, Altarum said.

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Altarum's analysis said that when all that travel and waiting was quantified by applying an individual's hourly wage as "an approximate measure of the economic cost of time spent"  the costs averaged $89 billion dollars annually from 2006 thru 2017.

These stats are also fueling the rising popularity of and demand for more convenient facilities like urgent care centers and walk-in clinics that generally come with smaller wait times and immediate, or near immediate, availability of appointments.

The global urgent care center market was valued at $19.2 billion in 2017 and is projected to reach $25.9 billion by 2023, according to a recent MarketsandMarkets report

The report said the key factors driving the growth are affordable care, shorter waiting periods offered by urgent care centers, growing investments in urgent care, increasing geriatric population, and strategic developments between urgent care providers and hospitals.


Even though providers have and are investing in tools and methods of improving access to care, streamlining operations and offering even better access to insurance, the data from 2006 to 2017 showed travel and wait times had not significantly improved. On average, Americans traveled 34 minutes to access professional healthcare services and then waited an average of 11 minutes, stats that haven't moved in 11 years, the report said.


"Time spent on travel and waiting for care is an underappreciated burden of the U.S. healthcare system. It results in a significant cost on patients, as individuals must forgo either leisure, work, or home activities in order to see a professional," the report said. "Travel and wait times represent an important measure of quality as they are key metrics of patient experiences and the time burden of care is a known hurdle for individuals seeking access to medicine."

Twitter: @BethJSanborn
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