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Travel, Wait Times for Healthcare Services Cost $89 Billion Annually

Jaime Rosenberg
Both travel and wait times for healthcare services are longest when compared with other services, such as getting a license or a vehicle repaired.
The cost of travel and wait times for doctor’s appointments and other healthcare services amount to nearly $90 billion annually, according to an analysis from Altarum. These wait times are more than double the average time spent waiting on other services, including getting a driver's license or a car repaired.

Based on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ American Time Use Survey, researchers from the nonprofit health research and consulting institute found that each time a consumer accesses healthcare services, they spend an average of 34 minutes on travel and 11 minutes waiting.

The survey included data from 2006 to 2017 from a nationally representative sample of Americans aged 15 and older who recorded their daily activities throughout a single day. Activities included veterinary services, vehicle repair, real estate, legal services, government services, personal care, banking services, and household services.

By comparison, wait times for healthcare services more than doubled that of veterinary services, which had the next highest wait times (11 minutes vs 4 minutes). Compared with the 45 minutes total spent on traveling and waiting for healthcare services, obtaining a driver’s license averaged about 30 minutes and banking services averaged around 15 minutes during the period.

Notably, the time spent traveling and waiting for healthcare services was more than half of the time that was spent on receiving care (45 vs 76 minutes).

“Time traveling and waiting for care likely adds little, if any, additional value to one’s health or wellbeing (and in fact is likely a significant burden in receiving adequate care); therefore, the opportunity cost of waiting and traveling for care is important to quantify,” stated the report.

Among those who work, time spent traveling and waiting for these services was associated with 90 minutes less of work and 37 minutes less of leisure. Using hourly wage as a measure for value of time, the report found that the average economic cost of these wait times is $89 billion annually, totaling nearly $1 trillion over the past decade.

These travel and wait times for healthcare services have not changed in recent years despite significant investments made in technologies meant to improve efficiency of care, according to the report, with time spent traveling and waiting ranging between 41 minutes and 51 minutes throughout the decade. The report noted that uptake of things like in-home care and telemedicine have potential to improve this burden.

Travel and wait times represented just 2 of the 5 healthcare activities documented in the survey, which also included self-care, professional care, and care for others. Across these 5 activities, travel and wait times accounted for 19.7% of the total time spent.

“Engaging in any of the 5 health categories on a particular day occurs infrequently, on only about 11% of days for the average American,” according to the report. “However, when time is spent on 1 of these 5 categories, the total health time burden for that day averages over 100 minutes.”

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