Why appointment wait times are rising and what you can do about it

Slingshot Health
5 min readMay 1, 2018

Ever wonder why the earliest appointment you can book with a specialist is three weeks from today? Want to know how you can get seen earlier? Read on below.

Appointment Wait Times By City

Before we jump into why wait times are rising, let’s first get a sense of the average wait times across different U.S. cities and also by specialties.

According to a 2017 survey by Merrit Hawkins, on average, it takes approximately 24 days to get a new patient physician appointment in 15 of the largest cities in the U.S. That’s a whopping 30% increase compared to 2014.

What they also found is that the average wait time to see a physician varies greatly depending on the city.

Among the 15 major cities surveyed, the longest wait time to get an appointment is in Boston (52.4 days) while Dallas (14.8 days) has the shortest wait time. Ironically, these major cities historically have the highest doctor to patient ratios.

Source: https://www.hospitalcouncil.org/sites/main/files/file-attachments/mha2017waittimesurvevy.pdf

Appointment Wait Times By Specialty

In the same survey, Merritt Hawkins looked at wait times by specialty. The specialties surveyed included Family Medicine, Cardiology, Obstetrics and Gynecology, Dermatology, and Orthopedic Surgery. Note that the wait times listed below are again for 15 of the biggest U.S. cities. Considering that the physician-population ratio in other parts of the country is not as robust, you can imagine that wait times can be considerably longer depending on where you live.

Family Medicine

In Family Medicine, the average wait time for patients ranges anywhere from 1.7 days to 175 days depending on the city. Imagine waiting 6 months just to see a family medicine doctor! Overall, the average appointment wait time across the 15 biggest cities in the US that were surveyed is 29.3 days.


The average wait time reported to see a cardiologist is 21.7 days. Wait times range anywhere from 2.7 days to 107.9 days.

Obstetrics and Gynecology

The average time to see an OBGYN is 26.4 days. Wait times range anywhere from 2.8 days to 122.7 days.


Wait times to see a dermatologist range from 1.7 days to as long as 165.7 days. The average wait time is 32.3 days.

Orthopedic Surgery

As far as orthopedic patients go, wait times in the 15 major cities surveyed is better when compared to other specialties. The shortest average wait time to see an orthopedic surgery specialist is 1.3 days, while the longest waiting time is 56.3 days. The average wait is 11.4 days.

Why Appointment Wait Times Are Increasing Over The Years

Long patient wait times are largely attributable to three variables: a shortage of physicians, the growing population, and an increase in access to health insurance.

Shortage Of Physicians

According to the Association of American Medical Colleges or AAMC, there is currently a shortage of 21,800 physicians in the USA. The AAMC predicts that the US will have a shortage of 65,000 by 2020 and 120,000 by 2030.

Electronic Medical Records

Another reason for increasing wait times is the use of electronic medical records. Electronic records cost doctors two hours of administrative work for every hour they spend with the patient. This not only reduces a physician’s availability to see patients, it also compromises quality of care. 33% of the doctors who answered the survey felt that “electronic records reduced the quality of care given to patients.”

The Growing Population Needing Health Care

Another factor contributing to long wait times is the steady growth of the US population, especially the aging population. 10,000 Americans are turning 65 years old every day. People over 65 need three times as much medical attention compared to younger adults. This means three times the appointments, tests, procedures, and treatments.

Health Insurance

As far as health insurance is concerned, an increased access to insurance has also contributed to longer wait times. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) extended health care to 20 million of previously uninsured people, increasing patient burden on physicians.

The Impact of Longer Patient Appointment Waiting Times

Longer wait times can cause patients to skip out entirely on routine check-ups and more which can result in serious long-term health consequences.

Any delay in diagnosis and treatment can pose health risks. Not to mention the fact that such delays can and will incur additional costs. These costs would have been avoidable if prompt medical attention was given.

Tips To Get Your Doctor Appointment Sooner

Who wants to wait days, weeks, or even months to see a doctor? No one does. So how do you avoid long patient waiting times? Here are some tips.

Ask if there is a new doctor in the group

Your chances of getting a schedule with a new doctor in a group will be higher than a doctor who has been around already.

Ask if there is a waiting list

It can’t hurt to ask the receptionist if there is a waiting list. This also communicates to the receptionist that you are serious about wanting or needing to see a doctor. Doctors, on average, have 4 open slots in their schedules due to last minute cancellations and no shows!

Book a schedule online

If the clinic uses online booking portals, use them! However, note that the availability on these portals may not be in real time. Check out Slingshot Health which matches patients and providers based on price and availability!

Be friendly with the receptionist

Last but not least, be friendly! Being friendly and building a relationship with the receptionist or nurse may help you get priority in case an appointment time becomes free.

About Slingshot Health

Slingshot Health is a health tech startup that brings top healthcare providers and patients together. Patients bid on the cost of services and healthcare providers accept bids based on availability. Slingshot Health is unique in that it is a mutual marketplace putting both patients and providers back in control. Visit us at slingshothealth.com.



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