• Appointment wait times increase across specialties, but not in family medicine

    The average wait time for new-patient, non-emergent appointments across five specialties is 26 days, up 8% from 2017. Meanwhile, the average wait time in family medicine is 20.6 days, down 30% from 2017, according to a new survey from Merritt Hawkins and AMN Healthcare.

    The survey presents a snapshot of physician availability in five medical specialties — cardiology, dermatology, family medicine, obstetrics/gynecology, and orthopedic surgery — across 1,034 physician offices in 15 major metropolitan areas.

    From March to mid-May 2022, researchers contacted physician offices and asked for the first available time for a new patient appointment. If asked, they indicated a hypothetical reason for the appointment, as follows:

    • Cardiology: A heart check-up,
    • Dermatology: A skin exam to detect possible carcinomas/ melanomas,
    • Family medicine: A physical,
    • Obstetrics/gynecology: A “well-woman” gynecological exam,
    • Orthopedic surgery: Injury or pain in the knee.

    Family medicine is the only specialty in which average appointment wait times were down relative to 2017.

    Specialty     Average wait time
    % change since 2017
    Cardiology 26.6 days
    34.5 days +7%
    Family medicine
    20.6 days
    Obstetrics/gynecology 31.4 days
    Orthopedic surgery 16.9 days +48%

    Researchers speculated that the decrease in family medicine appointment wait times may be attributed to growing numbers of patients accessing primary care via telemedicine, urgent care centers, and retail clinics, which then creates capacity for traditional office-based appointments. Millennials, in particular, may be more inclined to seek these options and less inclined to have a primary care physician. (See "What Millennials Want Out of Primary Care, and How to Deliver It.") An increase in payment models that fund care beyond the visit and leverage team-based care (e.g., care management fees) may also be helping to create primary care physician capacity.

    Separate research has shown that when patients have better access to the continuous care of a primary care physician, both quality and cost of care improve.1

    To further improve access for patients and to remain competitive in their markets, primary care practices should consider the following strategies (see "How to Excel at Access — and Why It Matters"):

    1. Build a “menu” of access options — from traditional office visits with the physician to online encounters (portal or telehealth visits) to gap management (team engagement on behalf of the patient).
    2. Match the type of patient request or problem with the type of encounter that can appropriately meet the need at the lowest cost. For example, if a patient calls or uses the portal to ask a simple health question, appropriate access may be a return phone call or portal message. But if a patient whose chronic disease is not at goal contacts the office, the most appropriate access is likely an office visit with the physician.


    1. Baicker K, Chandra A. Medicare spending, the physician workforce, and beneficiaries' quality of care. Health Aff (Millwood). 2004;23(suppl W4):184-197.

    Posted on Oct. 3, 2022 by FPM Editors

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