Vitals Finds Patient Satisfaction Drops after a Twenty-Minute Wait for Doctor

7th Annual Report Analyzes Consumer Sentiment Tied to Doctor Wait Times Study Reveals Wait Times Across States, Cities and Doctor Specialties

National Average Wait Time Down Nearly 10% since Wait Time Report Debut in 2009

March 23, 2016 – LYNDHURST, NJ – When it comes to waiting for a doctor’s appointment, most patients are waiting 19 minutes, 19 seconds – which is just good enough to keep patients happy with their service. Vitals 7th annual wait time report found that average wait times have improved meaningfully since the Physician Wait Time report debuted in 2009, down nearly 10% from the average 21 minutes and 18 seconds patients once spent in the waiting room,  and that consumers get increasingly cranky after eclipsing the 20-minute threshold.

The decrease comes at a time when health care delivery has never been more dynamic:  subject to the consumer-centric rise of alternative care like tele-health and retail clinics; online tools that inform health care decision-making; and health reform that has added patients/visits to the marketplace.

Within this climate, Vitals studied over 6 million reviews left by patients for doctors to see how wait times correlate to star ratings and found that doctors with five-stars, the highest doctor rating on Vitals, had a 13-minute wait on average. In contrast, doctors with a 1-star, the lowest rating, averaged a 33-minute wait.

Wait Time Effect on Doctor Rating

 

Star Rating Average Wait Time
5 12 min, 56 sec
4 18 min, 19 sec
3 21 min, 40 sec
2 26 min, 11 sec
1 33 min, 1 sec

 

The findings also indicate an important correlation between wait time and patient satisfaction. In fact, positive reviews start to skew negative after patients are left waiting more than 20 minutes. For instance, 49 percent of patients who had a 15-minute wait rated their doctor positively. Yet, only 27 percent of patients who waited for 45 minutes ultimately left a positive physician review.

Deeper analysis of reviews mentioning wait time revealed negative sentiments began even before the appointment with patients complaining about being kept on hold or not being able to get through to the office. Some also groused about not being able to get into the office for weeks – or even months. Negative doctor-patient experiences were also common with long wait times. Patients were more likely to complain of “rude” doctors or “wrong” diagnosis or prescriptions, leading many to succinctly conclude: “Don’t waste your time or money.”

In contrast, patients mentioning wait times in positive ratings were likely to “highly recommend” the doctor. The doctors were often labeled “friendly,” “kind” and “caring.” In fact, it seems temperament can trump time. Patients said an extended wait was “worth it” for a doctor who was “thorough” and “took time to listen” and “didn’t rush” during appointments.

“As a doctor, it’s critical to be skilled, but it’s also important to treat patients well,” said Mitch Rothschild, Founder and Chairman of Vitals. “What our analysis tells us is that wait time is an important factor in the patient experience and doctors who manage the clock effectively build better doctor-patient relationships.”

Rothschild added, “Undoubtedly macro-dynamics impacting health delivery today – including the rise of urgent care facilities – has driven the 10% reduction in wait time.  While we are uncertain how significantly wait times can be reduced from here, we are certain that these trends and other new forces that make patients shoppers of health services, will continue to create an environment where providers are challenged to deliver higher-quality care every visit, every day.”

Specialist Wait Times

Just as opinions vary, so do specialists. Vitals found large variations in wait time depending on the doctor’s specialty. Radiation oncologists (12 minutes, 29 seconds) and sports medicine specialists  (13 minutes, 4 seconds), had the shortest wait times out of the 139 types of specialists Vitals analyzed. Spine surgeons had the longest wait times, averaging 29 minutes, 34 seconds.

Doctor Specialties with the Shortest Wait Time

Specialty Average Wait Time
Radiation Oncology 12 min, 29 sec
Sports Medicine 13 min, 4 sec
Plastic Surgery 13 min, 13 sec
General Dentistry 13 min, 51 sec
Allergy/Immunology 15 min, 56 sec

 

Regional Wait Times

Location matters, too.  Out of the 50 largest cities across the U.S., Seattle had the shortest average wait time at 12 minutes, 47 seconds. Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Austin and Omaha were also in the top five. For the fifth year in a row, El Paso had the highest reported wait time at 25 minutes, 5 seconds, on average. Miami, Memphis, Las Vegas and Detroit were also among the cities with the highest average wait time.

Cities with the Shortest Wait Times

City Average Wait Time
Seattle 12 min, 47 sec
Milwaukee 13 min, 43 sec
Minneapolis 14 min, 25 sec
Austin 14 min, 29 sec
Omaha 14 min, 37 sec

 

New Hampshire defended its position as the state with the shortest wait time at 13 minutes, 25 seconds. Wisconsin, Maine, Washington and South Dakota also had short wait times across their states. For a second year, Alabama was ranked at the bottom of the states, averaging 21 minutes, 1 second. Mississippi, West Virginia, Arizona and Nevada were also in the bottom five.

States With the Shortest Wait Times

State Average Wait Time
New Hampshire 13 min, 25 sec
Wisconsin 13 min, 29 sec
Maine 13 min, 37 sec
Washington 13 min, 52 sec
South Dakota 14 min, 16 sec

Vitals’ annual Physician Wait Time Report, now in its seventh year, was compiled from patient-reported wait times in 2015.

About Vitals

Vitals empowers everyone to shop for their health care like an expert. We bring together cost and quality transparency along with innovative consumer engagement programs to help people select high-quality, lower-cost care. Vitals leads the market with incentive and engagement programs that pay people to shop. Our solutions achieve measurable and sustainable savings for consumers, employers and health plans. Vitals helps more than 120 million people each year access better, more affordable care.

 

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