How long should you have to wait to see a doctor? Why not just call a doctor?
The patient in the photo was able to get a same-day appointment within 15 minutes of the request and was seen within 10 minutes after arriving. But that is an exception in the United States. A recent article in the American Journal of Managed Care estimated the average physician visit takes two hours (121 minutes). That includes travel time (37 minutes), waiting time (about an hour) and treatment time (10 to 20 minutes). Of course, that’s once you get an appointment.
A 2014 Merritt-Hawkins survey of major cities found the wait time for a new patient to secure an office visit with a family physician took an average of 20 days (i.e. about three weeks). This ranged from a high of 66 days in Boston but only 5 days in Dallas. Wait times in Dallas ranged from 1 day to 10 days. I expect this would be very different in rural areas.
Why not just call a doctor? If you cannot get your doctor on the phone, why not contact another doctor by phone? A recent article in D Magazine looked at TelaDoc, a Dallas-based provider of telemedicine. The reporter, Matt Goodman, relayed an anecdote of the time he woke up with a sinus infection. Luckily Goodman’s sinus infection occurred on a weekday, when doctors’ offices are open. Goodman was able to see his primary care physician that day only because of a 3:00pm cancellation. As it turns out, Goodman waited about seven hours for a nine minute consultation with his doctor. Had he called TelaDoc, a board certified physician would have returned his call in under an hour – 30 to 40 minutes in most cases. He could have been on his way to the drugstore for a prescription within an hour or so. Goodman’s symptoms where typical of TelaDoc consultations. About half of their consults are for sinusitis (19 percent), upper respiratory infection (12 percent), pharyngitis (8 percent), bronchitis (7) and urinary tract infection (5 percent).
In the future, Texas patients who lack timely access to their regular physician may be stuck. The Texas Medical Board is trying to shut down telemedicine in Texas. (More on the legal case here; NCPA wrote about why it’s a bad idea here.)
When you were a child your mother may have told you not to talk to strangers. Texas’ Medical Board has taken this to heart and assumes it applies to doctors too. The Medical Board proposed new regulations to require patients to have an established relationship with a doctor before talking to that doctor on the phone. This would protect established brick & mortar physician practices from completion from TelaDoc or other telemedicine providers. Regulations also require an in-person follow up physician visit after a telemedicine encounter. Taken together, these two regulations seem more about padding local providers’ wallets more than protecting patient health. The feds seem to agree. The U.S. Justice Department and Federal Trade Commission are both backing TelaDoc. A federal judge granted a preliminary injunction halting the telemedicine rules pending litigation.