Here’s one potential (if somewhat grim) upside to millions losing insurance coverage under the proposed Republican health care plan: Those who remain insured may be able to see a doctor more quickly.
It now takes an average of 24 days for patients in the country’s largest cities to get an appointment with a doctor they haven’t seen before, according to a new study by doctor search and consulting firm Merritt Hawkins. That’s 30 percent longer than the last time the group did the survey in 2014, and the longest since it began tracking the metric in 2004.
“Physician appointment wait times are the longest they have been since we began conducting the survey,” said Mark Smith, president of Merritt Hawkins, in a statement.
In mid-sized cities, which have fewer doctors per capita, the wait time is even longer, averaging 32 days, according to the report. Boston residents face the longest wait times, with Bostonians waiting an average of 52 days for all doctor appointments, and 109 days to see a family physician. Billings, Montana, residents could see their doctors most quickly, but they still needed to wait an average of 11 days.
Long wait times could drive up overall health care costs, since patients unable to see a doctor may turn to more costly emergency rooms in order to get treatment.
Merritt Hawkins attributes the long wait times to a growing physician shortage around the country. An April report by the Association of American medical colleges found that by 2025 there will be up to 95,000 fewer doctors than patients will need.