How Much Time Does A Doctor Visit Really Take?

July 4, 2022

Emily Kunisch

When you or a family member is not feeling well or hurt, finding quick care can be challenging. Doctor’s offices, urgent care centers and emergency rooms are three traditional options for care that are not time-friendly or convenient. Whether it’s travel time, transportation, taking time off work, cost or arranging for childcare, there are many personal factors to consider when seeking care at these institutions.

Transportation is one of the biggest barriers to accessing healthcare.1 In fact, “Americans spend an average of 34 minutes on the road to a doctor’s office or other medical entity,” totaling more than an hour of travel time to and from an in-person visit.2 This statistic excludes the time it takes with public transportation. Shockingly, 45% of Americans do not have access to public transportation and 3.6 million people do not get care annually due to limited transportation access.3, 4 

Another personal factor to consider is childcare. The average cost for childcare is $15 and $23 per hour and accessing childcare may not be easy.5 Due to COVID-19, childcare centers across the U.S. are in short supply.6 

Now that we’ve broken down some personal factors, let’s look at the time it actually takes at a doctor’s office, urgent care center and emergency room.  

A Doctor’s Office Visit 

While having routine checkups with a primary care physician (PCP) is essential for overall physical and mental health, for non-emergent issues such as a sinus infection, rash or urinary tract infection, the time it takes to get an appointment with a PCP isn’t helpful. On average, Americans wait 24 days to see a PCP in-person.7 

Once in the office, patients wait almost 20 minutes to be seen, even with an appointment.8 These wait times are sometimes longer and are another deterrent for seeking care. A recent study revealed 30% of patients left their doctor’s office due to long wait times.8 

After the time it takes to get to the doctor’s office and the time spent waiting, 1 in 4 doctors spend just 9-12 mins with a patient.9 This is an inadequate amount of time for a PCP to cover symptoms and the patient’s history. Rushed appointments strain the doctor-patient relationship, diminishing trust and value-based care. The 15-minute care model is not beneficial to the patient.10 

If an illness emerges during a doctor’s office off-hours, there is typically no way to access care. U.S. adults are the least likely of high-income countries to have a primary doctor to seek care from and are the least likely to have access to care during off-business hours, leading them to seek care at an urgent care center or emergency room.11 This makes the time to get care even longer.  

The end result = 1 doctor’s visit is 2 hours (if you can get in to see a doctor before the average 24-day wait period) 

An Urgent Care Center Visit 

Much like a visit to a PCP, a trip to an urgent care center will take about two hours or more. But depending on the severity of your illness or injury and the number of other patients (and the severity of their illnesses or injuries), wait times can be much longer. Wait times in an urgent care center can range from 20 minutes to 90 minutes.12 

Unlike a visit with a PCP, urgent care center visits are much more expensive. The average cost of urgent care center visits range from $100 to $150 and costs can be higher or lower depending on insurance coverage, annual deductibles and copays.13 

The end result = 1 urgent care visit is 2-4 hours and costs can be confusing based on insurance coverage 

An Emergency Room Visit 

Higher-severity cases might bump a minor injury down the list, and emergencies aren’t scheduled. On average, the entirety of an emergency room visit is 2+ hours and costs more than $1,300.14 

Almost 60% of emergency room visits come outside of business hours.14 So, after enduring the wait time and exam, the wait times roll over to the next day to see the referred doctor or to visit a pharmacy during regular hours.  

A doctor should be someone a patient can trust. According to a recent study, 70% of providers told patients to go to an emergency room instead of an urgent care center, even though the patient indicated they would seek care at an urgent care center.15 In turn, 56% of emergency room visits are completely avoidable and could save a patient thousands of dollars in out-of-pocket expenses.14 

The end result = 1 emergency room visit is 4+ hours, expensive and likely avoidable 

Summary 

Whether it’s an emergency or a routine trip to your PCP for a simple sinus infection, a doctor’s visit takes much more time than we anticipate. It’s never as quick or affordable as we hope. Plus, a patient must also take into consideration pharmacy wait times and travel times if a medication is prescribed.  

As an alternative, First Stop Health Telemedicine and Virtual Primary Care provide fast, convenient solutions to a daunting necessity. You can’t just skip unavoidable medical care, but you can skip worrying about transportation, wait times, co-pays and time off work. First Stop Health members have 24/7 access to free, quality and convenient healthcare. Members can connect to doctors in under 6 minutes for Telemedicine and within 3 days for Virtual Primary Care. Our virtual doctors are board certified in their field of medicine, can treat patients in all 50 states and Washington DC, and have 10 years of post-residency experience, on average. 

Learn more about our Telemedicine solution

Learn more about our Virtual Primary Care solution

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4265215/ 
  2. https://www.naplesnews.com/story/news/health/2019/03/03/americans-average-34-minutes-road-see-doctor-study-shows/3020326002/ 
  3. https://www.apta.com/news-publications/public-transportation-facts/ 
  4. https://www.aha.org/ahahret-guides/2017-11-15-social-determinants-health-series-transportation-and-role-hospitals 
  5. https://www.valuepenguin.com/average-cost-child-care#:~:text=Parents%20in%20U.S.%20cities%20generally,typically%20pay%20more%20per%20hour 
  6. https://www.americanprogress.org/article/costly-unavailable-america-lacks-sufficient-child-care-supply-infants-toddlers/ 
  7. https://medcitynews.com/2017/12/patients-waiting/ 
  8. https://www.fiercehealthcare.com/practices/ppatients-switched-doctors-long-wait-times-vitals#:~:text=Across%20specialties%2C%20the%20average%20wait,patient%20waits%20depending%20on%20location. 
  9. https://www.statista.com/statistics/250219/us-physicians-opinion-about-their-compensation/ 
  10. https://khn.org/news/15-minute-doctor-visits/ 
  11. https://www.commonwealthfund.org/publications/issue-briefs/2022/mar/primary-care-high-income-countries-how-united-states-compares 
  12. https://www.advisory.com/daily-briefing/2012/12/04/member-asks#:~:text=The%20Urgent%20Care%20Association%20of,as%20long%20as%2090%20minutes. 
  13. https://www.debt.org/medical/emergency-room-urgent-care-costs/ 
  14. https://www.debt.org/medical/emergency-room-urgent-care-costs/ 
  15. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/1062860617700721 

Originally published Jul 4, 2022 2:00:00 PM.