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Americans Everywhere Are Waiting Longer to See a Doctor

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  • A survey of average wait times for doctor’s appointments looked at 15 large metropolitan US cities.
  • The average doctor’s appointment wait time in 2022 was 26 days, 24% higher than it was in 2004.
  • The physician-to-population ratios for the surveyed cities are some of the highest in the country.

People are waiting longer to see a doctor now, a survey from AMN Healthcare and its physician-recruiting division, Merritt Hawkins, found.

Researchers at AMN/Merritt Hawkins called doctor’s offices in 15 large metropolitan US cities to schedule an appointment as a new patient to see how long they would have to wait for the next availability, or used an online scheduling system to check. The doctor’s offices focused on different specialties: cardiology, dermatology, obstetrics-gynecology, orthopedic surgery, and family medicine, according to the survey. 

The average appointment wait time for a doctor’s visit has increased 8% since the survey was last conducted in 2017. In 2022, the average appointment wait time in the 15 cities is 26 days, up from 24.1 days in 2017. The survey noted that the researchers did not ask for appointments regarding urgent or emergency medical needs, so these wait times are not included.

Compared with 2004 when the survey was first conducted, the average wait time has increased by 24%, from 20.9 days. The survey was conducted between March and mid-May, and covered 1,034 offices.

Portland, Oregon, had the highest average wait time – 45.6 days. New York City had the lowest average wait time at 17.4 days. 

The specialty with the highest average appointment wait time is dermatology, which has an average wait time of 34.5 days. The average wait time to see a dermatologist in Minneapolis was the highest, at 72 days, while Philadelphia had the lowest average wait time, nine days. 

The lowest average appointment wait time was 16.9 days to see an orthopedic surgeon. San Diego had the highest average wait time of 55 days to see an orthopedic surgeon, while Washington, DC, had an average appointment wait time of 5 days. 

Historically, the doctor-to-population ratios in the 15 surveyed cities are some of the highest in the US, the survey noted. 

“If access to physicians in metropolitan areas with a large number of physicians per capita is limited, it may be reasonable to infer that physician access could be more problematic in areas with fewer physicians per capita,” the survey said. 

During the coronavirus pandemic, hospitals have struggled financially from having to hire temporary clinical staff when hospital staff is out with COVID-19. For example, a Dallas-based chain of hospitals, surgery centers, and clinics reported lower revenue and earnings in its third quarter than it did in 2021. Tenet Health had to spend money on temporary staff while almost 10% of its clinical staffers were sick in July.

Longer wait times ahead?

The survey listed other factors that can make wait times even longer in the future. The US could have a deficit of between 37,800 and 124,000 doctors by 2034, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges. One of the reasons for that is a growing US population. The US Census Bureau estimates that the population will grow to 423 million by 2050. 

Doctors are also aging, with over 30% of the active workforce being 60 or older, AMN/Merritt Hawkins found based on AMA data. A cap on federal funding for graduate medical education, which Congress implemented in 1997, limited how many doctors could enter practice each year, but was lifted in 2021. Despite the lift, only 1,000 training positions are being funded, “far short of what is needed,” the survey said. 

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