Longer wait times indicate increased demand for cardiologists

In yet another indicator that demand for cardiologists is on the rise, a survey of patient wait times for five specialties in 15 major metropolitan markets reported an uptick for cardiology in 2013.

In late 2013, an analysis published in Health Affairs predicted a 20 percent increase in demand for cardiology services by 2025. The Merritt Hawkins “2014 Survey of Physician Appointment Wait Times and Medicaid and Medicare Acceptance Rates” report complements those findings. In 2013, wait time for new patients seeking a heart checkup averaged 16.8 days for cardiology, up from 15.5 days in 2009.

The survey was designed to measure new patient wait times for five specialties: cardiology, dermatology, obstetrics/gynecology, orthopedic surgery and family practice. The healthcare search and consulting company sees wait time as an indicator of physician supply and demand. Merritt Hawkins first conducted the survey in 2004 and then again in 2009.

Researchers contacted between 10 and 20 randomly selected physician practices and medical groups for each specialty and in each of the 15 metro areas between June 1 and Nov. 15, 2013, to inquire about a new patient, non-emergent appointment. He or she asked for the first available time and whether the physicians accepted Medicare and Medicaid.

Dermatologists had the highest average wait time in 2013, at 28.8 days, followed by family practice physicians (19.5 days), obstetrics/gynecology (17.3 days), cardiology (16.8 days) and orthopedic surgery (9.9 days).

Wait times for cardiology varied greatly by region. Patients in Washington, D.C., faced an average wait time of 32 days for a cardiologist in 2013 while in Philadelphia the wait averaged six days.

Using being booked for 14 days or more in advance as a sign of a busy practice, Merritt Hawkins reported that cardiologists in eight of the 15 markets were busy, up from five markets in 2009. Those markets were Washington, D.C., San Diego, Denver, Boston, Miami, Detroit, New York and Minneapolis.

But Miami, Minneapolis and Philadelphia also showed a drop in wait times compared with 2009, slipping by 11 days, 22 days and five days, respectively. Eight cardiology markets had longer wait times in 2004 than in 2013.

Overall, wait times had shortened compared with 2004, the first year of the survey. The overall average across all metro areas was 18.5 days in 2013, 20.4 days in 2009 and 20.9 days in 2004. The 2004 data did not include family practices.

On average 63 percent of responding cardiologists said they accepted Medicaid patients, down from 82 percent in 2009, and 87 percent were willing to schedule Medicare patients. The Medicare question was added in the 2013 survey.

Merritt Hawkins acknowledged that demand for services can fluctuate by season and that physician vacation schedules and other factors may influence the results.