News: Physician shortages correlate with higher appointment wait times, survey shows

CDI Strategies - Volume 16, Issue 43

In surveying 15 major metropolitan areas, a new survey by AMN Healthcare and Merritt Hawkins reported that the time it takes to schedule a new appointment increased by 8% since 2017 and by 24% since 2004. The findings showed the number of days to wait for a new appointment with OB/GYN, cardiology, orthopedic surgery, and dermatology is continually increasing, with an average of 26 days compared to 24.1 days in 2017 and 21 days in 2004, Medpage Today reported.

Wait times were not equal across specialties either. The OB/GYN appointment wait time was 31.4 days, 19% more than the 2017 survey data at 26.4 days. New cardiology patients waited an average of 26.6 days for appointments, a 26% increase from 2017 at 21.1 days, and orthopedic surgery appointments took 16.9 days, increasing 48% from 2017 at 11.4 days. Lastly, dermatology appointments increased 7% since 2017, from 32.3 to 34.5 days on average.

“Physician appointment wait times are the longest they have been since we began conducting the survey,” said AMN Healthcare’s physician search division president, Tom Florence, who commented that these increases are likely a sign of growing demand. He noted that the data could also represent an evolving shortage in the capacity of supply healthcare services across the country, as well as staff. “Longer physician appointment wait times are a significant indicator that the nation is experiencing a growing shortage of physicians,” he said.

This coincides with a report published last year by the Association of American Medical Colleges’ (AAMC) Research and Action Institute, which found that specialty physicians, including cardiologists, OB/GYN physicians, and orthopedic surgeons would fall short of expected demand by up to 77,000 physicians in 2034. “We’re kind of at this tipping point,” Atul Grover, MD, PhD, the institute’s director, told MedPage Today. He said that not only physician shortages, but the aging U.S. population has and will contribute to the rising demand of services. The AAMC report projected the U.S. population over the age of 65 is expected to grow 42.4% by 2034.

With people living longer, more healthcare services will be required over time than previous generations, Grover continued. By 2034, the AAMC report projected primary care physicians would fall short of this demand by up to 48,000 physicians. The wait times found in the AMN Healthcare survey indicate these shortages are already affecting patients and the healthcare system at large. Given that the data came from major cities, it is likely many rural communities experience even longer wait times where specialty physicians are less common and farther apart.

Editor’s note: To read this topic covered by MedPage Today, click here. To access the AMN Healthcare survey, click here. To read AAMC’s report, click here.

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