Report outlines the business perils of long patient wait times

Patients in a hospital waiting room
Patients aren't happy about wait times at physician offices. (Getty/SuwanPhoto)

Wait times are costly for physicians.

Consider these facts from Vitals’ 9th annual Physician Wait Time Report, released today:

  • 1 in 5 patients say they have switched doctors because of long wait times.
  • 30% of patients have left a doctor appointment because of a long wait.
  • There’s a direct correlation between the amount of time a patient waits and a doctor’s star rating on the Vitals’ web site.

The report, along with a related patient survey of 675 online respondents compiled this month, showed that 84% of people believe wait time is either “somewhat important” or “very important” to the overall patient experience at a doctor’s office.

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Wait times continue to be an important factor for patient satisfaction and impacts their healthcare decision in a significant way, the report said.

A reasonable wait time is on the list of factors that create a satisfying patient experience, right up there with a clean office, a friendly reception and an attentive doctor, the survey found.

And wait times influence a physician’s ratings. Physicians rated five-stars on the Vitals web site, the highest ranking, had a 13-minute, 17 second wait on average. In contrast, doctors with a one-star rating, the lowest ranking, had a wait time average of 34-minutes, 11 seconds.

While the old saying goes that patience is a virtue, long wait times are a test that many people don’t endure. Surprisingly, people with poor access to healthcare were more likely to walk out of an appointment because of a long wait time.

Only 20% of people who reported having excellent access to top-quality doctors said they’ve walked out of an appointment because of a long wait. In comparison, 53% of people who reported having poor access to healthcare have left a doctor’s office due to long waits.

RELATED: Financial incentives keep doctors from reducing patient wait times

Wait times on average dropped from last year, the survey found. Across specialties, the average wait time for a doctor in America currently stands at 18 minutes, 13 seconds. That’s down 22 seconds from last year, and the fourth consecutive decrease in wait times.

There’s a difference in how long a patient waits depending on location. For the second year in a row, Milwaukee ranked at the top of the list of cities with the shortest wait time, with an average time of 14 minutes 35 seconds.

El Paso has been riding an even longer trend. For seven years, the city has placed at the bottom of the ranking. In fact, its average wait time increased 1 minute year over year, to an average 26 minutes, 50 seconds.

RELATED: Wait times down, patient portal use up at practices

When it comes to a state-by-state breakdown, Wisconsin leapfrogged New Hampshire to take the lead in the shortest wait time this year. In Wisconsin the average wait time is 13 minutes, 23 seconds. New Hampshire, where wait times increased 2 minutes over last year, was in second place at 14 minutes, 23 seconds.

For patients living in states at the bottom of the list, the wait is only getting longer. Nearly all the states in the bottom five added 1 minute to their average wait time year over year. Alabama had the longest wait times at 22 minutes, 19 seconds.

Patients do keep themselves busy while they wait. Some 44% of respondents said they look at their phone or another electronic device. But keep those magazine subscriptions current, as about 55% of patients said they browse through the publications in waiting rooms.

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