The average wait to see a physician is 19 minutes, 19 seconds—barely under the 20-minute threshold that causes patients to get cranky, according to the latest Physician Wait Time report from online healthcare directory vitals.com. That’s an improvement over the 21 minutes and 18 seconds tallied in 2009, when the company began clocking these times.
“As a doctor, it’s critical to be skilled, but it’s also important to treat patients well,” said Mitch Rothschild, founder and chair of Vitals. “What our analysis tells us is that wait time is an important factor in the patient experience and doctors who manage the clock effectively build better doctor-patient relationships.”
Dentists did well in keeping to their schedules compared to colleagues elsewhere in healthcare. According to Vitals, 86.9% of dentists had wait times of 20 minutes or less, with 25.4% keeping patients waiting for 10 minutes and 44.9% seeing patients in just 5 minutes. On the other end of the scale, only 3.8% kept their patients waiting an hour or longer.
Vitals studied more than 6 million reviews left by patients for doctors on its site to see how wait times correlate to star ratings. Doctors with 5 stars, the highest rating on the site, had a 13-minute wait on average. Doctors with only one star averaged a 33-minute wait. Also, 49% of patients who had a 15-minute wait rated their doctor positively, while only 27% of patients who waited for 45 minutes left a positive review.
Negative sentiments often begin before the appointment as patients are kept on hold on the phone or can’t even reach the office. Some patients also complain about waiting weeks or months for an appointment. Long wait times additionally correlate with complaints of “rude” doctors or “wrong” diagnoses or prescriptions, leading to poor online reviews.
Yet patients who mentioned wait times in positive ratings were likely to “highly recommend” those doctors, who often were called “friendly,” “kind,” and “caring.” Temperament can trump waiting times, as patients have said extended waits are “worth it” for doctors who are “thorough,” “took time to listen,” and “didn’t rush through appointments.”
Seattle was the city with the shortest average wait time at 12 minutes, 47 seconds, followed by Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Austin, and Omaha. El Paso had the longest average time at 25 minutes, 5 seconds. New Hampshire was the state with the shortest time at 13 minutes, 25 seconds, while Alabama was the longest at 21 minutes, 1 second.
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