Study suggests lag time might be due to providers having bigger caseloads

Health.com
May 10, 2017

WEDNESDAY, May 10, 2017 (HealthDay News) -- Most people have found themselves twiddling their thumbs while waiting too long to see a doctor, but new research suggests that scenario is more likely if you are on Medicaid.

It appears that Medicaid patients have slightly longer waits at medical appointments than those with private insurance, the new study finds.

Researchers analyzed data from more than 21 million outpatient visits to nearly 2,600 different medical practices in 2013.

They found that the average wait times were 4.6 minutes for Medicaid patients and 4.1 minutes for those with private insurance, a difference of 5 percent. The wait times were recorded based on software capturing patient check-in times and times when patients were taken in for the doctor's visit.

Medicaid patients were also 20 percent more likely to wait more than 20 minutes to begin a scheduled appointment than those with private insurance.

Medicaid is the government-run health insurance program for the poor.

"My intuition, going into it, was that wait times were going to be much longer, based on my own biased recall," said study co-author Amy Finkelstein, a professor of economics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

"We tend to remember that visit where we waited forever," she added. "A key value of measuring wait times based on information captured by office software is it doesn't suffer from such biased recall."

One reason for Medicaid patients' longer waits is that they tend to use health care providers who generally have a larger patient caseload, the researchers explained.

The investigators also found that wait times are generally shorter in the mornings and at larger medical practices; patients in New England spent less time waiting to see a doctor than anywhere else in the country; and young children are late for 40 percent of their medical visits.

"People want to focus on health care quality, but if you've ever had any experience with the health care system, you know there are a lot of non-health amenities associated with your visit," Finkelstein said in a university news release.

Comparing wait times is another way to assess the quality of health care among different groups of patients, according to the researchers.

The findings were published in the May issue of Health Affairs.

More information

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services has more on Medicaid.

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