Here's Why You Wait So Long For Doctor Appointments, According To New Data

The first time I took the big step of scheduling my own doctor's appointment, I had a rude awakening. I'd naively thought it would be easy to call up the office and suggest a day and time during the next week or so, and just like that I'd be able to waltz on in. What I soon discovered, though, was that finding an open spot in my doctor's schedule was much more about taking whatever I could get than suggesting the perfect time for my schedule. According to an expert, the reason why you wait so long for doctors' appointments can depend on a few different factors.

But before I get into why wait times for appointments can be so long, let's get the story straight on just how long the average person is really waiting. Health care company Merrit Hawkins recently conducted an extensive survey of appointment wait times in 2017, and Zocdoc, an online platform that helps you book doctor appointments quickly and efficiently, looked at the data to create an interactive tool that allows you to see the average time you'll likely have to wait to see a doctor, based on things like the physician's specialty, your age, and your gender.

In an email interview with Elite Daily, Jessica Aptman, chief communications officer at Zocdoc, explains the meaning behind the data, and what it all means for you as a patient. "Our data shows that, in general, appointments booked on Zocdoc peak at 10 a.m. and again at 2 p.m." she explains, "so it’s best to book times earlier or later in the day if you want to avoid visiting the doctor during prime patient rush hours."

Honestly, you might be better off trying for a pre-work doctor's office visit, Aptman explains, because the data shows that 7 a.m. and 8 a.m. have the highest ratings for short wait times.

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Personally, before I discovered the magic of booking appointments online, I used to get so stressed out by the idea of having to call a number of doctors' offices in my area and hope for a time that worked for both me and my physician. And even now, after I fit something into my schedule, I sometimes have trouble keeping up with appointment times and locations. This is why a platform like Zocdoc can be really helpful, because it not only allows you to book doctor visits very easily, you can also set up reminders through the Zocdoc app. Since you can see every available time slot for any local doctor you choose directly from the website, you can make sure to nab those 7 a.m. appointments and cut down your wait time.

While Zocdoc’s appointment wait times tool focuses only on New York City data, if you live in another major city, Aptman says the results will likely be similar. However, she tells Elite Daily, patients tend to get faster care when booking on Zocdoc versus the traditional method of scheduling over the phone. In fact, according to Zocdoc's data, roughly 11 percent of new patients are able to book same-day appointments using the site's platform.

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As for why wait times can sometimes be so ridiculously long, Aptman says it's important to note that the kind of doctor you're visiting can play a big role. "For example, primary care doctors and mental health care providers likely see patients most (if not all) days of the week," she tells Elite Daily, "but more specialized providers, such as orthopedic surgeons or gastroenterologists, might only hold office visits two days per week and be in surgery the other three."

If you want to cut down your wait time, Aptman recommends figuring out exactly what kind of specialist you need to see if you aren't just booking a visit with your primary care doctor. And if you're not exactly sure how to do that, instead of furiously googling something like "what kind of doctor can help me with my shoulder pain," Aptman suggests trying out Zocdoc's Patient-Powered Search, which lets you search with words that everyday people (i.e. non-medical professionals) actually use, like “gyno” or “anxiety," rather than "obstetrician-gynecologist" or "psychotherapy."

Bottom line: Don't let long wait times stop you from taking care of yourself. There's always a way to make these things easier — you just have to be creative about it.