The Doctor Will See You in Two Months

The average appointment wait time is down slightly from 2009, but is still too high. Patients have a long time to wait if they want to see a dermatologist in Minneapolis or a family physician in Boston.

Wait times for patients to see doctors have declined slightly from 20.5 days in 2009 to 18.5 days in 2013. Unfortunately, that’s still a very long time to wait and in some cities it can still take more than two months to see a family physician, according to a new study.

A survey of 1,400 medical offices by Merritt Hawkins and AMN Healthcare found that in Boston it can take 66 days on average for a patient to see a family physician. Unfortunately, Boston hasn’t improved much over the years as the city had the highest average wait times in 2009 and 2004, too. These long wait times are despite the fact that at 450 physicians per 100,000 population, Boston had the highest physician-to-population ratio—one that was double the national average of 226 physicians per 100,000 people.

Surveys were conducted in a total of 15 cities: Atlanta, Boston, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis, New York, Philadelphia, Portland, San Diego, Seattle and Washington, D.C.

"Finding a physician who can see you today, or three weeks from today, can be a challenge, even in urban areas where there is a high ratio of physicians per population," Mark Smith, president of Merritt Hawkins, said in a statement. "The demand for doctors is simply outstripping the supply."

Boston experienced the longest average doctor appointment wait times out of 15 metro areas. It takes even longer to see a dermatologist (72 days), while the wait was slightly less to see a cardiologist (27 days) or an orthopedic surgeon (16 days). Meanwhile women waited 46 days to see an ob/gyn, according to the survey results.

In New York, patients had to wait 26 days to see a family physician, which seems positively speedy compared to Boston. According to Merritt Hawkins, physician appointment wait times varied greatly across the country from as little as one day to over eight months.

Merritt Hawkins pointed out that physician access troubles and long wait times could become even more pronounced when millions of patients become newly insured through the Affordable Care Act.

"Having health insurance does not always ensure access to a physician," Smith said. "More physicians will need to be trained, and access to other types of providers expanded, to ensure that health care delayed does not become health care denied."

Dallas had the lowest cumulative average wait time at just 10.2 days, according to the survey results, compared to Boston’s cumulative average wait time of 45.4 days.

Women in Portland have the longest waits for an ob/gyn appointment (136 days); patients in Denver had the longest wait for orthopedic surgery (68 days); Houston reported the longest wait for family practice appointments (178 days); Washington, D.C.’s 186-day wait for a cardiology appointment was the longest; and 265 days in Minneapolis is the longest wait for a dermatologist.