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Physician Appointment Wait Times Up Nationwide – 30 percent increase from 2014


A new survey released this month by Merritt Hawkins, a national physician search firm, has found a 30 percent increase from 2014 to 2017 in the average wait time to schedule a new patient physician appointment in 15 of the largest cities in the nation. “Physician appointment wait times are the longest they have been since we began conducting the survey,” said Mark Smith, president of Merritt Hawkins. “Growing physician appointment wait times are a significant indicator that the nation is experiencing a shortage of physicians.”

The Merritt Hawkins survey of 1,414 physician offices in 15 large metropolitan areas tracks average new patient appointment wait times in five medical specialties: cardiology, dermatology, obstetrics/gynecology, orthopedic surgery and family medicine. Boston, Mass., is experiencing the longest average physician appointment wait times of the 15 metropolitan markets with an average wait of 109 days to see a family physician, 52 days to see a dermatologist, 45 days to see an OB/GYN, 45 days to see a cardiologist and 11 days to see an orthopedic surgeon.

“Finding a physician who can see you today, or three weeks from today, can be a challenge, even in large urban areas where there is a relatively robust supply of doctors,” said Smith. “The challenge becomes even more difficult in smaller communities that have fewer physicians per population.”

Like many other health care organizations across the country, Sonora Regional Medical Center is working diligently to bring more physicians to the community but facing the challenge of a decreasing pool of qualified candidates. In a study by the Association of American Medical Colleges, also released this month, research predicts a shortage of between 40,800 and 104,900 physicians in the United States by 2030, a deficit “fueled by population growth, an increase in the number of aging Americans, and retirement of practicing doctors.”

“Fortunately we have a lot to offer potential candidates – a wonderful community, state-of-the-art medical facilities and highly qualified and experienced staff,” explains Kathrina McRee, director of physician recruitment and community relations at Sonora Regional Medical Center. “Unfortunately the number of qualified physicians we are able to find and the competition we face from all of the other communities across the country pose considerable challenges for us.” Physicians must have specific qualifications to meet California licensing requirements. In addition, Adventist Health (the parent company of Sonora Regional Medical Center) has additional requirements that physician candidates be board eligible or board certified in order to ensure delivery of the highest quality care. And in Sonora, candidates must want to live in a rural area and show a desire to stay long term.

To boost efforts in finding more doctors to serve Tuolumne and Calaveras counties, Sonora Regional Medical Center hired an additional fulltime physician recruiter in January 2017 to focus mainly on the recruitment of primary care physicians. Other efforts include developing a team-based approach to care, leveraging the skills of advanced practice providers and improving the use of technology such as telemedicine. Nationally, there are also efforts to increase the number of medical residency positions to train more new doctors.