Report: Wait and travel times for patients aren't improving; cost U.S. $89B annually

Hospital emergency room
Despite work and effort that's been put into making healthcare more efficient, there's been almost no change in the amount of time patients have to devote to accessing healthcare services, according to a new report from the Altarum Institute. (Getty/Kwangmoozaa)

Over the last decade, travel and wait times for getting healthcare services have been the longest compared to obtaining other professional services like legal, vehicle repair or government services.

And despite the work and effort that's been put into making healthcare more efficient, there's been almost no change in that time in how long patients have to devote to getting these services, according to a new report from the Altarum Institute.

(Altarum Institute)

All that time is adding up, said Corwin N. Rhyan, senior analyst at the Altarum Center for Value in Health Care, who estimated that all that waiting equals about $89 billion annually in opportunity costs. 

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Rhyan analyzed data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ American Time Use Survey from 2006 thru 2017 and found that, on average, the time spent traveling and waiting for healthcare services on a day when an individual got care was about 45 minutes, including an average travel time of 34 minutes and wait time of 11 minutes. That is more than 50% of the time spent actually receiving care.

RELATED: Altarum: Hospital spending increases drive slight uptick in overall healthcare spending growth

In comparison, obtaining veterinary services takes about 35 minutes including about 30 minutes of travel time, and getting legal services takes about 31 minutes including about 27 minutes of travel time.

"This is an important part of the quality of the healthcare system that deserves greater attention, in particular, because of the fact that … we really haven't seen any demonstrable improvement in travel and wait times," Rhyan said. "That's despite the fact that healthcare is increasingly technical and IT focused and, in theory, individuals with better coverage should have better access to care."

While it may not be entirely fair to compare the time it takes for a person to receive healthcare to how long they spend banking, Rhyan said they are valuable to consider because it shows there is room for healthcare to improve. 

"Healthcare could do better and should be willing to do better," Rhyan said. "Individuals forgo and delay getting care because of the amount of time they know it will take them to travel to get care and the amount of time they'll have to wait for that care. This is both a cost that people are spending their time doing that and also because individuals are not accessing care because of that time which is bad for their health and bad for the healthcare system more broadly."

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