The Average Wait Time to See a Doctor in These U.S. Cities Is a Little Bit Horrifying

The last time I got sick enough to haul myself to the doctor was a number of years ago, so I don’t actually remember how long it took for me to get an appointment. I do know, however, that it was way shorter than what’s apparently the average wait time to see a doctor these days. According to a survey by Merritt Hawkins, the only way around it is not to get sick. Ever.

This survey was actually released earlier this year; however, an article that ran in the Washington Post last Thursday about how many patients doctors should see each day sparked a pretty fierce debate, prompting the site to run a reminder. For each of 15 major cities in the U.S., there are two points of data: The average wait time in days to schedule an appointment with specialty physicians including those in cardiology, dermatology, orthopedic surgery, and OB/GYN; and the average wait time in days to schedule an appointment with a family physician. The results are pretty disheartening. The shortest amount of time you’ll wait is a little over 10 days for a specialty physician and five days for a family physician in Dallas; meanwhile, the longest wait times are 45.4 days for a specialist and a whopping 66 days — 66! — for a family physician in Boston. For the visual learners, here's a map with all the details:

<img width="780" alt="Source Merritt Hawkins" src="http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/to-your-health/wp-content/uploads/sites/26/2014/05/waittimes-1024x674.png" class="article-body-image" title="Image: http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/to-your-health/wp-content/uploads/sites/26/2014/05/waittimes-1024x674.png"/>

Seriously, Boston?! A lot can happen in 66 days, including a rapid and irreversible decline in health. As a native, I’m more than a little ashamed of you. In fact, I’m so ashamed of you that I made a meme:

Said Travis Singleton, the senior vice president of Merritt Hawkins, “We have too few providers, which is creating a significant access problem.” In fact, according to a 2012 article in the Annals of Family Medicine, the average primary care physician has 2,300 total patients under his or her care; in order to provide all recommended care for that number of patients, each doctor would have to spend 21.7 hours a day working. Yikes. Additionally, fewer doctors are accepting Medicaid these days, with an average of only 45.7 percent of physicians taking it. I suppose at least the good news is that wait times have decreased a tiny bit since the last time the survey was conducted; the average cumulative wait time for both specialty physicians and family physicians is 18.5 days, down from 20.4 days in 2009 and 20.9 days in 2004. So… at least there’s that?

Health.com has a few tips on how to shorten your wait time, but they’re really only applicable for the time you wait once you get into the office — not for scheduling an appointment in the first place. One thing I wouldn’t recommend, though, is suing your doctor because of your wait time. That isn’t going to end well for anyone — and it’s not going to solve the bigger problem. In the meantime, take care of yourselves, OK? We only get so much time on this planet, after all.

Images: proimos/Flicker, The Washington Post