It’s Really Hard to Find a Private Psychiatrist in Boston

According to a new study.

Need to find a psychiatrist in Boston? Good luck with that.

A new study by Harvard Medical School researchers found that three major U.S. cities have very limited access to outpatient psychiatric care, and surprisingly, Boston is one of them.

The study, published online in Psychiatric Services, says that access to private outpatient psychiatric care in the Boston, Chicago, and Houston metro areas is “severely limited, even for those with private insurance or who are willing to pay ‘out of pocket.'”

Researchers used the Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBS) online database of in-network providers (BCBS is the biggest provider of health insurance in Illinois, Texas, and Massachusetts), and called 120 psychiatrists within a 10-mile radius of suburban zip codes in Boston, Houston, and Chicago. The authors posed as patients when calling and said that they had BCBS PPO insurance, Medicare, or that they were willing to pay out of pocket.

Shockingly, the authors were only able to obtain appointments with 93 out of the 360 psychiatrists called. That’s only 26 percent. According to the report:

Although they were able to obtain appointments more frequently using BCBS or as self-pay compared to Medicare, this difference was not significant. There was a significant difference in success rate between cities, however, with psychiatrists in Boston least likely to offer an appointment and those in Houston most likely to do so.

In most cases, psychiatrists simply did not return calls (23 percent). There were also a large number of incorrect phone numbers (16 percent). The wrong numbers listed included a jewelry store, a boutique, and a McDonald’s restaurant. Additionally, 15 percent of practices were full and not accepting new patients. Another 10 percent of the psychiatrists identified through the BCBS directory did not see general adult outpatients.

“Insurers provide lists of providers, but they are filled with names of individuals whose practices are full or who don’t bother to return phone calls or with phone numbers that are simply wrong. Calling for a psychiatric appointment and reaching a McDonald’s? That is totally unacceptable,” says the study senior author J. Wesley Boyd, an attending psychiatrist at Cambridge Health Alliance and an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. “[We] need a comprehensive, thoughtful public overhaul of psychiatric care that removes obstacles from accessing needed care.”