Wait Times for Doctors Decrease, Even as More Americans Enter Health Care System

Portland Ranks Top; El Paso Ranks Bottom in Vitals’ Sixth Annual Wait Time Report

LYNDHURST, N.J.--()--As millions of Americans entered the health care system for the first time through the Affordable Care Act, analysts warned of a coming strain on the health care system. One prediction was overcrowded offices, resulting in longer waits for patient care.

Yet, instead of going up, wait times are actually coming down. According to the 6th Annual Vitals Index, the national average for wait times dropped to 19 minutes and 16 seconds, a full one-minute shorter than the 2014 wait time average.

Several factors could be contributing to the decrease. Alternative care facilities, like urgent care centers and retail clinics, could be taking the burden off primary care doctors. Physician extenders, like nurse practitioners and physician assistants, may also be easing doctor caseloads. Even the rise of concierge medicine can be diverting patients from traditional group practice care. In fact, wait times for primary care doctors, the doctors Americans see the most, were generally down over one minute (1 minute, 11 seconds) in a year-over-year comparison.

“It appears that the growth of supportive health services is increasing the overall efficiency of care for patients,” said Heyward Donigan, CEO of Vitals. “This is great news as more Americans receive health coverage and enter the system, post-reform.

While wait times are decreasing overall, the study found wide variations by doctor specialty. Dentists (13 minutes, 31 seconds) and plastic surgeons (15 minutes, 22 seconds), whose patients often pay out-of-pocket, have the shortest wait times out of the 61 types of specialists Vitals analyzed. Emergency doctors (24 minutes, 41 seconds) and pain management specialists (24 minutes, 52 seconds) had some of the longest wait times.

Top Specialists with the Shortest Average Wait Times
Psychologist         11 minutes 33 seconds
Dentist         13 minutes, 31 seconds
Radiation Oncology         13 minutes, 55 seconds
Osteopath         14 minutes, 29 seconds
Phlebologist         14 minutes, 52 seconds
Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon         14 minutes, 55 seconds
Plastic Surgeon         15 minutes, 22 seconds
Allergy & Immunology Specialist         15 minutes, 54 seconds
Radiologist         16 minutes, 40 seconds
Psychiatrist         16 minutes, 43 seconds

Beyond the type of doctor, where you see the doctor matters, too. Out of the 50 largest cities across the U.S., Portland edged out Seattle for the shortest wait time at 15 minutes, 48 seconds in 2015. Minneapolis, Seattle, Milwaukee and Omaha were also in the top 5. For the fourth year in a row, the longest wait time was reported in El Paso at 26 minutes, 21 seconds. Memphis, Miami, New York and Las Vegas were also at the bottom of the ranking.

Top 5 Cities with the Shortest Average Wait Times
Portland         15 minutes, 48 seconds
Minneapolis         15 minutes, 57 seconds
Seattle         15 minutes, 58 seconds
Milwaukee         16 minutes, 4 seconds
Omaha         16 minutes, 22 seconds

For states, New Hampshire led the nation with the shortest wait time at 15 minutes, 4 seconds. The remaining top states with shortest physician wait times include Wisconsin, Maine, Minnesota and Vermont. Alabama edged out Mississippi this year as the state with the longest wait, averaging 23 minutes, 25 seconds. Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas and Tennessee were also in the bottom five.

Top 5 States with the Shortest Average Wait Times
New Hampshire         15 minutes, 04 seconds
Wisconsin         15 minutes, 22 seconds
Maine         15 minutes, 56 seconds
Minnesota         15 minutes, 57 seconds
Vermont         15 minutes, 59 seconds
Bottom 5 States with the Longest Average Wait Times
Alabama         23 minutes, 25 seconds
Mississippi         22 minutes, 58 seconds
Louisiana         21 minutes, 50 seconds
Arkansas         21 minutes, 49 seconds
Tennessee         21 minutes, 38 seconds

Vitals’ annual Physician Wait Time Report, now in its sixth year, is compiled from patient-reported wait times. The Vitals Index is designed to provide information about the current state of the doctor-patient relationship.

About Vitals

Vitals is reinventing the way people shop and save on their medical care. We support effective decision-making through cost, quality and access data, as well as reward and incentive programs. Vitals leads the market with the first transparency and engagement platform that achieves measurable savings for consumers through a retail-like approach to purchasing health care services. Through health plans, hospitals and our leading consumer websites, Vitals helps more than 150 million people each year access better, more affordable care.

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Rosie Mattio, 917-583-6349


Rosie Mattio, 917-583-6349