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slides: Study: Massachusetts Residents Wait Up To 2 Months For New Doctors

Thursday, July 25, 2013


Think it takes a long time to get out of a doctor's waiting room? How about just getting in to see a new doctor?

While Massachusetts may provide some of the best healthcare in the country to its residents, how long it takes to get that healthcare is longer than you think, according to a new report from the Massachusetts Medical Society. And in Worcester County residents are waiting longer than those living in many other parts of the state.

The Society's 2013 survey of 1,137 physician offices is the ninth annual such study conducted by the statewide physicians’ organization and examined three areas of access to care: (1) wait times for new patients getting non-emergency appointments with a physician; (2) percentages of physicians accepting new patients; and (3) physician acceptance of the government insurance programs of Medicare and MassHealth.

Seven physician specialties were surveyed for the study: family medicine, internal medicine (the two major primary care specialties), cardiology, gastroenterology, obstetrics/gynecology (OB/GYN), orthopedic surgery, and pediatrics.

Waiting for care

When it came to waiting for seeing a new primary care physican in Worcester county the aver  For primary care in Worcester County, the average wait time for a new patient appointment with a family physician was 50 days--much longer than the statewide average of 39 days. Want to see an internist in Worcester county? The average wait is nearly a month--26 days--and even more than that for a pediatrician, 34 days.

Overall, the study showed wide variations exist in average wait times from county to county. For family medicine, Suffolk County had the shortest average time at 16 days, and Franklin County has the longest average wait time at 106 days.

“Wait times continue to be an issue," said Dennis Dimitri, MD, a family physician in Worcester and Vice President of the Massachusetts Medical Society. "Massachusetts has universal health care which is great, but that means that there is more demand for physicians than there is supply," he said. “New patients wait times continue to remain long and there is not much change year to year." On the bright side, however, Dimitri said that established patients wait time has improved and is much better than previous years statewide.

Waiting for specialists

A more consistent improvement for patients comes in the realm of medical specialties. New patient wait times for cardiology, gastroenterology, OB/GYN, and orthopedic surgery were stable or shorter for all specialties except orthopedic surgery, which crept up this year from 44 days up to 50 days--nearly two months.

The average wait time in 2013 for cardiology was 28 days, versus 29 days in 2012; for gastroenterology, 33 days, versus 44 days in 2012; for OB/GYN, 37 days, versus 38 days in 2012; and orthopedic surgery, 22 days, versus 16 days in 2012.

For more breakdowns by county and by specialty, see the slides, below.

How to deal with these seemingly endless waits for healthcare? Patients need to take matters into their own hands, said Karen Balerna, RN, owner of Nurse Advocate Partners, LLC, based in Walpole, MA, and operate strategically. “I recommend to my clients when trying to get an appointment with a new doctor to take the first available appointment and ask to be placed on a cancellation list to try to get in sooner," Balerna said.

Balerna also helps her patients overcome another wait--that in the physician's front office. "Some doctors are double and triple booking appointments," she said, "so I also recommend trying to get an appointment earlier in the day whenever possible to decrease wait times in the waiting room." Health Advocates helps appointments go smoother by preparing patients for appointments ahead of time. To make the appointment productive, advocates make a list of questions and concerns for the patient to the doctor. “When I am making an appointment with a specialist for my clients, I make sure I convey urgency when they need to be seen in a timely manner and again ask to be put on a cancellation list," she said.


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