U.S. Residents Face Long Wait Times for Health Care Visits
Although many observers believe that U.S. residents can access care quickly, there is "emerging evidence" that long wait times for appointments with physicians are "the norm," the New York Times reports.
For example, a Commonwealth Fund study from last year surveyed 2,002 U.S. adults to compare wait times for health care in the U.S. with those in 10 other countries. The study found that 26% of U.S. residents waited six days or more for an appointment when they were "sick or needed care," worse than eight of the other countries.
Meanwhile, a survey last year by physician staffing company Merritt Hawkins found that wait times varied significantly by location and specialty. For example, patients waited:
- 66 days to receive a physical in Boston;
- 32 days to have a heart evaluation by a cardiologist in Washington state; and
- 29 days across the U.S. to receive a skin exam from a dermatologist.
According to the analysis, one reason for the longer waits in the U.S. might be that health care systems in other countries have medical and financial incentives to reduce wait times and provide timely preventive care, which can help reduce long-term costs. Meanwhile, wait times for appointments and procedures are public in many other countries, but not in the U.S. That puts less pressure on U.S. physicians to reduce wait times, according to the Times.
Other countries have taken steps to reduce their wait times, such as assigning more providers to higher need areas, developing scheduling systems to prioritize certain appointments or requiring at least one medical office in a particular area to be open on nights and weekends so patients do not have to go to the emergency department.
The Times reports that the U.S. might reduce its wait times by allowing nurses and physician assistants to administer more care. Incentivizing more medical students to go into primary care could also reduce wait times, according to the Times (Rosenthal, New York Times, 7/5).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.