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How health-care costs us $89 billion a year in lost time

Americans spend more time traveling and waiting for health appointments than for any other service, including getting a driver’s license at motor vehicle agencies, according to a new study by health research firm Altarum.

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On average, Americans spent 34 minutes to traveling to doctor appointments and the 11 minutes waiting to be seen once they got there, according to Altarum’s analysis of data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ American Time Use Survey from 2006 through 2017.

The travel and wait times remained consistently high over the last decade, despite the expansion of new alternatives like urgent care clinics and access to physician visits via telemedicine for nonemergencies.

By comparison, combined travel and wait times for government services like getting a driver’s license averaged about 30 minutes over the same period, and about 15 minutes for banking services.

Altarum estimates that the economic impact of all that time spent on travel and waiting for health care was nearly $1 trillion over the last decade, or an average of $89 billion a year, when quantified in average hourly wages.

“When you’re talking about total time spent on health-care activities, but then more specifically travel and wait times, … there’s virtually no change” over the last decade, said Corey Rhyan, a senior analyst at Altarum’s center for value in health care.

But for some, the loss may be even bigger than time and money.

“You have to have patients who actually don’t seek out care because … they’re an employee that doesn’t have the luxury to take time off to get care, so they forgo care,” Rhyan said.

Altarum researchers say one thing that could help reduce wait times is if doctor’s offices adopted the practice of alerting patients when appointments are running late so they can better plan their visits.