First posted 6/23/11 on Healthcare Headaches on US News.
A few weeks ago, while at an out-of-state wedding reception, I began having chest pain that didn’t immediately go away with rest and antacids. Although it was unlikely to be an early symptom of a heart attack (I’m relatively young, have good cholesterol levels, and have no relatives with early heart disease), I felt uncomfortable enough to want another physician to confirm that it was only a bad episode of heartburn. But with my family doctor’s office hundreds of miles away, the only medical option seemed to be the nearest hospital emergency room. And like most people, I avoid emergency rooms unless I have a broken bone or life-threatening medical emergency.
Fortunately, the pain disappeared and I didn’t need to see a doctor that night. But you don’t have to be hundreds of miles from home to know that it’s tough to get a doctor’s appointment when you need one. According to a 2009 survey, the average wait time for an appointment with a family physician was nearly three weeks, and up to two months in some cities. Because last year’s health reform law is expected to result in more people having health insurance, these wait times may become even longer, as more patients compete for increasingly scarce spots in doctors’ schedules.