You know how it feels like you’ve spent hours in the waiting room every time you see a doctor? A new study from Harvard Medical School (HMS) says that estimate is not far off.
Compiling data from several sources, including the American Time Use Survey, the researchers calculated that the average appointment takes 121 minutes. That two-hour block accounts for total time devoted to the appointment, including travel, waiting, paying, and completing paperwork; only 20 minutes is typically spent actually seeing a doctor. Black and Hispanic patients often faced even longer travel, wait, and administrative times than white patients, sometimes by as much as 25 percent.
That’s not just an issue of time management. By estimating the value of an activity based on how much income the participant could have earned during that time—a figure known as opportunity cost—HMS’ team found that each appointment costs patients roughly $43. That’s on top of the $32, on average, that patients actually pay out-of-pocket.
In a statement, the study’s lead author Ateev Mehrota, a professor of healthcare policy and medicine at HMS, said the findings quantify how difficult it can be to seek healthcare:
“Typically, when we talk about how much we spend on health care, we focus on what is paid to doctors and hospitals through co-pays and insurance payments,” said Mehrotra. “This work helps us put a dollar amount on the significant time it costs people to seek health care.”
The researchers wrote in the statement that a number of strategies—like incorporating healthcare clinics into community centers and schools, improving telemedicine, and better organizing office visits—could improve patients’ quality of care.
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