Wait Times for Physician Visits Longest in Boston, Survey Finds
Patients in Boston have the longest waits for physician appointments while patients in Washington, D.C., have the shortest, according to a survey conducted by consulting firm Merritt, Hawkins & Associates of 1,062 physician specialists' offices in 15 major cities, the Boston Globe reports. In the survey, released last week, surveyors randomly called doctors who had private practices or who were affiliated with hospitals in the city or surrounding suburbs, posing as new patients requesting appointments for problems that were not urgent. The study found that patients in Boston wait an average of 37 days to see a cardiologist, 45 days to see an obstetrician-gynecologist, and 50 days to see a dermatologist, compared with patients in Washington, D.C., who wait an average of eight to 15 days to see a doctor. The survey did not examine whether the delays caused harm to patients or why some cities had longer delays than others. According to Merritt, delays to see physicians could be caused by shortages of doctors as they get older and cut back hours or retire. Patients also might be demanding more visits now that HMOs have decreased restrictions on access to specialists. The findings also revealed that it is often hard for patients to talk to a live person, with answering machines taking their messages and staff sometimes not calling back after researchers left two or more messages. The survey also asked office staff whether the doctors see Medicaid beneficiaries. According to the Globe, there was "a wide range of responses," from 100% of Portland, Ore., doctors in four specialties treating Medicaid beneficiaries to fewer than 10% of New York City doctors doing the same.
Paul Ginsburg, president of the Center for Studying Health System Change, said of Boston's delays, "Frankly, I'm at a loss to explain it. Boston is a great place to practice. But this is a longstanding pattern. Obviously there seems to be some kind of shortage." Daniel Ginsburg, president of the Massachusetts General Physicians Organization, said, "We find that wait times are tricky to measure. If you call with something urgent, doctors figure out how to fit you in tomorrow or today," adding, "Gyn visits or annual physicals usually get scheduled quite a ways out. But if I had a pain in my knee, 24 days would seem like a long time." Barbara Gilchrest, Boston Medical Center's chief of dermatology, said that the delays were possibly because many of Boston's doctors work in academic medical centers so they also conduct research and teach medical students, leaving less time to treat patients (Kowalczyk, Boston Globe, 6/4).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.