Patient Engagement

How long are new patients waiting to see a doctor?

New data from athenahealth found that on average, “new” patients — or those who haven’t visited the practice in a minimum of three years — waited 2.7 weeks after scheduling an appointment to see a physician.

A 2017 Merritt Hawkins survey found the average wait time for a physician appointment in 15 large U.S. metro markets is 24.1 days. This frustration has caused many patients to lament over how long it can take to get in and see a doctor.

And as new data from athenahealth shows, they have a point. The long wait times issue is exacerbated when the patients are considered “new” — in other words, they haven’t visited the practice in at least three years.

The EHR vendor examined information from 4.2 million first appointments scheduled with 13,000 providers on the athenahealth network throughout the course of 2016.

The findings? On average, said “new” patients spend 2.7 weeks waiting after calling for their first appointment.

Overall, across a variety of providers, only 10 percent of patients were seen by a physician the same day they called. The majority — 60 percent — were seen within two weeks. And 20 percent waited more than four weeks to visit a doctor.

Splitting up the data a little more, athenahealth found some providers were harder to see than others. While orthopedic patients got in for an appointment in 13.1 days, patients seeking a primary care physician had to wait an average of 21.7 days.

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Pediatric patients waited 17.1 days, and cardiology patients waited 18.5 days to see a provider.

But those seeking an appointment with an OB/GYN had to hang tight for the longest amount of time: 23.7 days.

The Watertown, Massachusetts-based vendor also dug deeper into the wait times associated with several in-demand specialties.

The specialty category included 626,000 first appointments scheduled with 1,044 providers on the athenahealth network in 2016. Otolaryngology patients waited the shortest amount of time to see a provider: 13.2 days on average.

The standby times just increased from there. Urology patients waited 19.2 days, nephrology patients waited 23.5 days and pulmonology patients waited 25.2 days. Those looking to see a gastroenterologist had a 26.1-day gap between calling and getting in. Patients seeking a neurologist had to sit through 32.3 days before their appointment.

But rheumatology patients had it the worst. On average, they waited 44.8 days — or nearly six and a half weeks — to see a specialist.

Wait times aren’t just a pain to patients. They can also harm doctors and practices in the long run. In looking at the 4.2 million appointments among 13,00 providers bracket, athenahealth also found that patient cancellation rates increased as the wait time went up. Cancellation rates were considered the percentage of new patient appointments that were nixed and not rescheduled within six months.

For example, the cancellation rate was at 12 percent for patients who got in to see a provider the next day. But among those who couldn’t get in for three weeks, the rate hit 22 percent. It hiked up to 32 percent for patients who had a wait time of more than four weeks.

Photo: solidcolours, Getty Images