American has a doctor problem, but we know how to solve it. First, the problem: Wonkblog reports on a new study of wait times in 15 big US cities, which found the average waiting time across five different specialities was 18.5 days. In some areas of the country it’s even higher—in Boston, the average wait time for a first time patient to see a family doctor is 66 days.But the study did gesture to some good news:
“We have too few providers, which is creating a significant access problem,” says Travis Singleton, senior vice president of Merritt Hawkins in Texas, which conducted the survey […]The good news is that wait times actually decreased slightly, down from an average of 20.4 days when the survey was last conducted in 2009, and down from 20.9 days in 2004. Singleton attributes the slight improvement to practices employing more mid-level providers like nurse practitioners, better health-care IT to help with scheduling and an increase in the number of urgent care centers.
Note the last sentence of that second paragraph: though waiting times remain to high, we’ve managed to cut them down by better use of nurse practitioners, among other things. We can and should do more to employ more NPs in routine health care delivery. Not only can they help our system provider care faster, they can preform the same quality of routine care as doctors at a cheaper rate. Freeing up NPs to do more care should be a central priority of health care reform, and there’s an easy place to start: bills that would allow NPs to do more primary care without doctor oversight are pending in many states.