Friday, May 15, 2009

Wondering what Obama's national health care will look like? Then check out Boston, where the wait for a doctor can be more than a year

National health insurance may flood the system with new patients. This may cause very long delays in your ability to schedule an appointment at many doctor's offices. is reporting:
Despite Boston's abundance of top-notch medical specialists, the waits to see dermatologists, obstetrician-gynecologists, and orthopedic surgeons for routine care have grown longer - to as much as a year for the busiest doctors.

A study of five specialties shows that the wait for a nonurgent appointment in the Boston area has increased in the past five years, and now averages 50 days - more than three weeks longer than in any other city studied.

Patients in Boston and other areas of Massachusetts for years have faced notoriously long delays, according to earlier surveys of physicians' offices. A number of factors contribute, doctors said, but the 2006 health insurance law, which has required hundreds of thousands of state residents to obtain coverage, probably has worsened the waits.

"We had a bus that was pretty full, and then we invited more people on the bus," said Dr. Gene Lindsey, president of Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates, a large physicians group. "Now people are standing in the aisles."

Merritt, Hawkins & Associates, a Texas-based consulting and physician recruiting firm, surveyed 1,162 doctors' offices in 15 metropolitan areas, trying to replicate what new patients would experience if they were searching for a doctor for a nonurgent appointment, including a heart checkup, a skin exam to detect possible cancer, knee injury or pain, a gynecological exam, and a complete physical exam.

Boston had the longest delays to see dermatologists, obstetrician-gynecologists, and family practitioners, and was second after Dallas in delays to see orthopedic surgeons. Waits increased since 2004 for appointments with dermatologists, obstetrician-gynecologists, and orthopedic surgeons, but patients can get in faster now to see cardiologists; Boston ranked fourth in waits for heart doctors, behind Minneapolis, Miami, and San Diego. The company did not survey family practitioners in 2004.

Average times to get appointments with doctors in Boston ranged from 21 days for cardiologists to 70 days for obstetrician-gynecologists. But when surveyers called, some dermatology and family practice offices said they couldn't get an appointment for a year.

The survey did not address whether delays hurt patients, or why Boston is generally worse than other cities.

But the authors also pointed to the more than 400,000 newly insured residents flooding doctors' offices, and said the long waits in Boston "may signal what could happen nationally in the event that access to healthcare is expanded through healthcare reform.

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