Elisabeth Rosenthal’s article in the New York Times 7/5/14 “The Health Care Waiting Game” again puts the spotlight on US health care. This time she points out a problem everybody has been experiencing: long waits for health care appointments. The average wait for a family practice appointment is about 20 days with extremes across the country from 5 days in Dallas to 66 days in Boston. Examination of the private sector begins to make the VA look better. The question now: how many people have died waiting for appointments? (it’s a no brainer — lots)
While wait times in the US have gotten longer they have gotten shorter in other places in the world like the UK. To some degree the acute problem is an influx of newly insured people into the US market. But, long before the acute problem there has been a chronic decline.
From an economic point of view it’s all supply and demand (see “Principles of Health Economics“) . Economists point out that the demand for healthcare is almost infinite whereas the supply is always going to be limited. At some point a line must be drawn. Is $100,000 per year for a medication acceptable? Is $500 for a “wellness”exam too much? Do we really need MDs to treat diaper rash?
Long waiting lines are a sign of poor management. If a person can’t be evaluated by the healthcare system there is no way to know what is being overlooked. Perhaps that person in the line only needs a cheap generic medication; not everyone is waiting for hip replacement surgery. As a country we need to get the best bang for the buck and use limited resources wisely.
We seem to be wasting time coming to grips with healthcare problems.
“I wasted time, and now doth time waste me.”
― William Shakespeare
So, what can a patient do?
- accept appointments with providers that are farther away
- accept PAs and Nurse Practitoners for follow-up and simple problems
- do your part to learn about your health problems so you don’t drag the system down with poor healthcare literacy
- complain about high prices and long waits and vote for better health care regulation, not less.