- Scheduling a new patient appointment with a physician takes 8% longer than it did in 2017 and 24% more time than it did in 2004, indicating a growing physician shortage in the U.S., according to a new survey from AMN Healthcare.
- The staffing agency tracked appointment wait times in five specialties: obstetrics/gynecology, cardiology, orthopedic surgery, dermatology and family medicine. It found the average wait for an appointment across 15 large metropolitan markets is 26 days, up from 24 days in 2017 and 21 days in 2004, when the survey was first conducted.
- Compared to five years ago, the average time a new patient must wait before seeing a physician has increased 26% in cardiology and 48% in orthopedic surgery but is down 30% in family medicine, which AMN Healthcare attributed to the proliferation of urgent care centers, retail clinics and telemedicine. The average wait time was up 7% for a dermatology appointment and up 19% for an obstetrics-gynecology visit.
The Association of American Medical Colleges estimates the U.S. could see a shortage of between 37,800 and 124,000 physicians by 2034, including both primary and specialty care. Demographic trends behind the projected shortfall include a growing and aging population, an aging physician workforce, physician burnout, and a dwindling amount of new physicians entering the profession, AMN Healthcare said.
With more than 30% of active doctors age 60 or older, according to American Medical Association data, a wave of retirements can be expected. At the same time, the number of new physicians entering the field has been limited by a cap on funding for training that Congress enacted in 1997. The cap was lifted in 2021 to provide funding for 1,000 new positions, short of what is needed, the staffing firm said.
In the cities surveyed, the physician-to-population ratios are some of the highest in the country, implying that access to doctors could be more problematic in areas with fewer physicians per capita, AMN said.
“It’s a sobering sign for the rest of the country when even patients in large cities must wait weeks to see a physician,” said Tom Florence, president of AMN's physician search division.
The survey also found that 82% of physicians in the 15 major markets accepted Medicare as a form of payment, down from 85% in 2017. Detroit had the highest number of physicians accepting Medicare at 93%, while New York City had the lowest at 58%.
Only 54% of physicians accepted Medicaid, up from 53% in 2017. Boston had the highest number of physicians accepting Medicaid at 72% while Dallas had the lowest at 30%.
The survey includes data from 1,034 physician offices in Atlanta, Boston, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, Minnesota, New York City, Philadelphia, Portland, San Diego, Seattle and Washington, D.C.