What's the Cost of Sitting in the Doctor's Office? Would You Believe $52 Billion a Year?

Anyone who has waited in a doctor's office knows the "cost" includes both the money spent and the time lost while seeking care. A study in The American Journal of Managed Care calculates a monetary value for how much time Americans lose seeking healthcare, as a step toward improving the way care is delivered.


PLAINSBORO, N.J.—The “cost” of time spent seeking healthcare was $52 billion for Americans in 2010, according to a study just published in The American Journal of Managed Care.

The study, led by Kristin N. Ray, MD, MS, represents the first time researchers have tried to calculate at a national level the value of lost time, including travel time and time spent in clinic. “Opportunity Costs of Ambulatory Medical Care in the United States” found that for every dollar spent in visit reimbursement, patients lose an additional 15 cents in “opportunity costs.” Additionally, the value of the patients’ time, at $43 per visit, is typically higher than the average out-of-pocket co-payment, which was $32. The full study can be found here.

Researchers assessed opportunity costs using the 2003-2010 American Time Use Survey (ATUS). They also calculated how much time patients spent face-to-face with medical providers using the 2003-2010 National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey, and determined the annual number of ambulatory physician visits and per visit medical costs using the 2010 Medical Expenditure Panel Survey (MEPS).

Such calculations have significance as the nation seeks better ways to delivery ambulatory care, with health systems seeking to understand the impact of care delivery at urgent care clinics, work-site care, school-based care, and, especially, increased use of telehealth.

“Time spent per year by employed adults seeking medical care exceeded the number of annual hours worked by more than half a million full-time employees. The societal opportunity costs are greater than $50 billion a year,” noted senior author Dr. Ateev Mehrotra. “Accounting for patient opportunity costs is important for examining US healthcare system efficiency and evaluating methods to improve the efficient delivery of care.”

About the Journals and

The American Journal of Managed Care celebrates its 20th year in 2015 as the leading peer-reviewed journal dedicated to issues in managed care. distributes healthcare news to leading stakeholders across a variety of platforms. Other titles in the franchise include The American Journal of Pharmacy Benefits, which provides pharmacy and formulary decision-makers with information to improve the efficiency and health outcomes in managing pharmaceutical care, and The American Journal of Accountable Care, which publishes research and commentary on innovative healthcare delivery models facilitated by the 2010 Affordable Care Act. AJMC’s Evidence-Based series brings together stakeholder views from payers, providers, policymakers and pharmaceutical leaders in oncology and diabetes management. To order reprints of articles appearing in AJMC publications, please call (609) 716-7777, x 131.

CONTACT: Nicole Beagin (609) 716-7777 x 131

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