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Why Do You Wait So Long at Doctor's Offices?

June 18th, 2024 | 3 min. read

By Melissa Gifford

Why Do You Wait So Long at Doctor's Offices?

It’s the day of your doctor’s appointment. It may have taken you a while to get an appointment, but it’s here.

You arrive on time, check in at the front desk, and take a seat, expecting to see your doctor soon. But as minutes turn into 30 minutes, you find yourself still waiting, flipping through magazines to pass the time.

Frustrating, isn’t it? This all-too-common scenario reflects a common issue with traditional primary care.

In this article, we'll explain the causes of these extreme wait times and a great solution to bypass these problems. 

What is the average wait time in doctor’s offices?

A 2024 study showed patients wait for an average of 15-30 minutes for a physician and 32% of patients "start losing their cool" at that point.

A quick search of X, formerly known as Twitter, reveals how much of a common problem the traditional primary care model is.

Because the average appointment length is usually 10-15 minutes, patients often spend more time waiting than they do talking to their doctor.

So it begs the question: why do doctors make you wait so long?

Because of an unfortunate combination of not enough primary care physicians, too many patients, and the health insurance reimbursement model.

Patients in a waiting room for their doctor's appointment

1. There aren’t enough primary care physicians.

The United States is experiencing a physician shortage, particularly among primary care physicians. A report from the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) projects a shortage of between 17,800 and 48,000 primary care physicians by 2036.

Why aren’t there more primary care physicians? It’s complicated, but it can be boiled down to three reasons:

  1. More and more PCPs are approaching retirement age.  Physicians aged 65 or older are 20% of the clinical physician workforce, and those between age 55 and 64 are 22% of the clinical physician workforce.

  2. Fewer medical school students select primary care as their specialty because it pays significantly less than other specialties. For instance, the average salary of a cardiologist is $544,201, per the 2023 Doximity Physician Compensation report.

    The average salary of a PCP is $260,000. Given the debt medical students rack up during their education, it’s unsurprising that more are choosing the more lucrative fields.

  3. The traditional primary care model relying on health insurance reimbursements for their revenue is broken. PCP practices rely heavily on these reimbursements for medical services to generate revenue for their practice. And that leads us to the next reason why doctors make you wait so long.

2. Doctors have too many patients.

When your primary source of revenue as a business is through health insurance reimbursements, there’s one easy way to increase revenue – see more patients.

It’s a flawed incentive arrangement that prioritizes seeing as many patients as possible instead of the right number required to provide high-quality care for every patient. If you want to keep the business running, you’ve got to see more patients.

For doctors running their practices or as part of a larger hospital system, the pressure of keeping the business running looms, and forces them to grow their panel size to exorbitant sizes.

Today, many primary care physicians maintain patient panels with more than 2,000 patients. The result? Packed schedules (sometimes double booked) and not enough time in the day.

"I would like to schedule an appointment" may seem like an easy request. However, with that many patients to care for, a primary care physician’s schedule can be booked weeks in advance, making it difficult to accommodate your needs. 

And because doctor’s offices, like most businesses, typically operate from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., with an hour for lunch, they churn through dozens of appointments daily, often 20-35. It’s their only option if they want to provide care to thousands.

There is not enough time in the day to squeeze in everyone effectively.

That means they are booked back-to-back-to-back with patient appointments, and if they spend extra time with one patient, it just makes them late for the next one, and it snowballs from there.

That’s why doctors make you wait so long in a waiting room, lobby, or exam room. They’re trying to keep up with a slammed schedule every day, and that’s just not sustainable.

Patient happily shaking hands with physician

One solution to waiting at doctors’ offices? Concierge medicine.

Let’s be clear: this is not the physician's fault. It’s the hand they are dealt in the traditional primary care model.

That’s one reason the concierge medicine model has grown significantly since the late 1990s. Concierge medicine requires a membership fee from patients who wish to join the practice. This allows doctors to manage significantly smaller patient panels, typically reducing the number from over 2,000 to 400-600 patients.

One of the primary benefits of this model is the minimal to no wait times for appointments.  Don't let another frustrating wait time at a doctor's office dictate your healthcare experience. It's time to choose a path that aligns with your needs and ensures your well-being.

Want to learn more about concierge medicine? Download our Understanding Concierge Medicine ebook.

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Melissa Gifford

As a Membership Expert at PartnerMD, Melissa Gifford has years of experience in concierge medicine. She guides you through the membership process, ensuring you understand and maximize the benefits of personalized care.