Study: Low Income, Minority Status Affect Medical Care Wait Times

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Blacks and Hispanics spend approximately 25% more time seeking health care than whites, and patients also spend more time in a doctor's waiting room if they're unemployed.
Blacks and Hispanics spend approximately 25% more time seeking health care than whites, and patients also spend more time in a doctor's waiting room if they're unemployed.

HealthDay News -- Blacks and Hispanics spend approximately 25% more time seeking health care than whites, and patients also spend more time in a doctor's waiting room if they're unemployed, in a low-paying job, or never attended college, according to research published in JAMA Internal Medicine.

Ateev Mehrotra, MD, MPH, an associate professor of health care policy and medicine at Harvard Medical School in Boston, and colleagues analyzed data gathered by the annual American Time Use Survey between 2005 and 2013. The survey, conducted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, measures the amount of time people spend at various activities. The study authors then compared the time estimates with data on time spent with a physician collected from 2006 to 2010 by the National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey.

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The researchers found that whites waited for about 80 minutes on average in a doctor's waiting room. By comparison, blacks waited an average 99 minutes and Hispanic wait times averaged around 105 minutes. Unemployed patients spent 94 minutes in the waiting room, versus 72 minutes for those making the most money. Low-income patients waited an average 80 minutes. Patients with graduate degrees waited an average 76 minutes, as opposed to 91 minutes for those with a high school education or less.

The Institute of Medicine has identified timeliness of care as a key aspect of quality health care, and it hasn't received the attention it deserves, Joseph Ross, MD, an associate editor of JAMA Internal Medicine who co-wrote an accompanying editorial, told HealthDay. "There hasn't been nearly enough work to evaluate the time it takes for a patient to receive care in the United States," said Dr. Ross, who's also a primary care physician and associate professor of medicine at Yale University School of Medicine in New Haven, Conn. 

"I would say at this time, the system is designed around how physicians want to practice medicine, for the most part, and not around the patient's needs," he said. 

Reference

1. Ray K, Chari A, Engberg J, Bertolet M, Mehrotra A. Disparities in Time Spent Seeking Medical Care in the United States. JAMA Internal Medicine. 2015:1. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2015.4468.

2. Ross J, Katz M. No Time to Wait. JAMA Internal Medicine. 2015:1. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2015.5393.

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