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A Quarter of Patients Face Two-Month Appointment Wait Times

Four in ten patients said they faced appointment wait times that they considered longer than reasonable.

Appointment wait times are reaching a boiling point, with new data from the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) pitching nurse practitioners themselves to fill in patient care access gaps.

The survey showed that 40 percent faced what they considered a “longer than reasonable” wait to obtain an appointment. That’s an increase from 2022, AANP said.

Of those unreasonable wait times, 40 percent were longer than two months. All said, 26 percent of patients respondents told AANP they had to wait more than two months to get an appointment on the books.

That’s a pretty considerable delay, AANP contended, especially considering the time-sensitive nature of healthcare.

"These results are an eye-opening look at the state of access to care in our health care system," Stephen Ferrara, DNP, the newly minted president of AANP said in a statement.

"A lack of timely access to care, particularly primary and preventive care, can lead to chronic conditions that put patients' lives in danger and increase costs,” Ferrara added. “Delayed or deferred care can put an individual's health at greater risk for complications, which may also lead to a negative impact on mental health and lost wages for those patients. A decline in productivity for employers may also occur."

Barriers to timely appointment access are a problem for nearly all patients, the survey added. Long appointment wait times were consistent across all major demographics, including age, gender, educational attainment, and rurality. Said otherwise, this isn’t just a young person problem or a rural resident problem.

That said, there are serious consequences for eventual healthcare access, the survey added.

For one thing, those who reported long wait times ended up going without care. This was more common among folks who were younger, lived in urban areas, were of Hispanic race, and had mental healthcare needs.

These findings are concerning, AANP experts said, because they illustrated lapses in the healthcare workforce. Timely appointment access is few and far between because there often are not enough healthcare providers to meet patient demand.

Nurse practitioners could be effective for filling in some of those care access gaps, according to Jon Fanning, MS, CAE, CNED, the CEO for AANP.

"As a nation, we can solve the growing crisis in access to care by modernizing the outdated policies that sideline NPs from delivering care they are educated and clinically prepared to provide," Fanning said in the press release. "We can help shorten wait times and give patients timely access to the care they need by removing barriers to America's 355,000 NPs.”

The debate about practice authority for NPs is a contentious one. While many states expanded scope of practice during the pandemic to increase the number of clinicians available to battle COVID-19, some industry groups have pushed against the idea.

The American Medical Association (AMA), a lobbying group representing physicians in the US, has long argued that care teams need to be led by doctors.

“There are also relentless efforts to redefine how medical care is practiced by expanding scope of practice for nonphysicians, creating more inefficiencies in the system, further siloing care, and putting patients at greater risk,” Jesse M. Ehrenfeld, MD., MPH, said in his inaugural address as AMA’s new president. “And I will tell you these misguided efforts negatively impact patients in historically marginalized communities. The aspiration shouldn’t be to provide lesser quality care to more people, it should be to provide high quality care for all people,” the anesthesiologist from Wisconsin said.

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