Travel to healthcare appointments, wait times haven't improved in 11 years
It takes more than half an hour for patients to travel to healthcare appointments, and that is followed by 11 minutes of waiting — times that haven't changed over the past 11 years, according to a report from Altarum.
Patients' travel and wait times are in some cases more than twice as long in healthcare than other professional services, such as legal, personal care, vehicle repair and government activities.
Digging deeper into the data, taken from the Bureau of Labor Statistics' American Time Use Survey from 2006 until 2017, Altarum found that the time spent traveling and waiting didn't vary based on demographic variables, such as income and region.
Despite healthcare advances and more insured Americans, travel and wait times haven't changed much over the past decade. These elements play a role in patient experience and impact access to care.
If it takes 45 minutes before even being seen, patients can't schedule appointments on their lunch breaks. They will likely have to take off work. People who can't afford missing work could wind up delaying care, which can affect a person's health and result in costlier care later.
Altarum researchers found that the time traveling and waiting for healthcare was more than 50% of the total time the patient took to receive care. It takes an average of 45 minutes for travel and wait times combined, and then 76 minutes receiving care on average.
Travel and wait time is an "underappreciated burden," according to Altarum. The time spent traveling and waiting can result in a cost to patients, including lost work time. The report estimated that travel and wait times cost an average of $89 billion annually between 2006 and 2017.
Patient satisfaction and convenience are important metrics for healthcare organizations. Those topics can go well beyond the care delivered and can be outside of a provider's influence.
However, Altarum said there are ways providers can try to reduce the time burden, including telemedicine and improved scheduling.
"Given the lack of progress made in decreasing wait and travel times, despite significant system investments in access and efficiency, this report emphasizes the need for further focus on decreasing a patient's time burden in receiving care. Technological improvements (such as in-home and telehealthcare) can reduce the burden on a patient, as can further improvements in administrative efficiency, such as reducing paperwork and better scheduling/alerts for patients," according to the report.