Survey: Access To Mass. Doctors Improving Slightly

Access to primary care doctors in Massachusetts improved slightly in 2012, although about half still say they aren't accepting new patients, according to a Massachusetts Medical Society survey released Wednesday.

The survey found 51 percent of internists and 50 percent of family doctors say they are taking new patients. That's a small improvement from last year, when 49 percent of internists and 47 percent of family doctors were accepting new patients.

Average times for new patients seeking appointments with primary care doctors remained long, according to the survey.

MMS President Richard Aghababian said the survey shows “an improving picture of access to and satisfaction with health care” in the state.

In the 2012 survey, it took an average of about 45 days for new patients to see a family doctor. That's up from 36 days last year and 29 days in 2010.

Wait times for internal medicine also were high at an average 44 days. That was an improvement over the average of 53 days in 2010 and 48 days last year.

The wait times varied by region. For family medicine, Plymouth County had the shortest average time at 19 days, while Franklin County, where just one office was accepting new patients, had the longest single wait time at 205 days.

Access to specialists is easier than primary care, according to the report. More than 80 percent of cardiologists and obstetricians/gynecologists were accepting new patients this year, while more than 90 percent of gastroenterologists and orthopedic surgeons were doing so.

The survey also looked at the percentage of doctors who accepted Medicare and Medicaid as payment.

Acceptance of Medicare remains almost universal in each specialty. The lowest Medicare acceptance rates came from primary care doctors, with 90 percent of family doctors and 84 percent of internists accepting it.

Acceptance of Medicaid — known as MassHealth — was lower, with 64 percent of family doctors and 54 percent of internists taking it.

Massachusetts Medical Society President Richard Aghababian said the survey shows "an improving picture of access to and satisfaction with health care" in the state.

"While we continue to have shortages of physicians and average wait times for new patients for primary care are still longer than we'd like them to be, we are seeing more people getting care," Aghababian said in a statement. "That's positive."

A second survey released by the society, which represents about 24,000 doctors in Massachusetts, found 87 percent of patients are satisfied with the health care they received — with 61 percent saying they're very satisfied and 26 percent saying they're somewhat satisfied.

The medical society said the satisfaction level has remained stable since it first starting tracking the data eight years ago.

The survey also found that half of adults said affordability remains the single most important health care issue facing the state.

The release of the survey comes just days after Gov. Deval Patrick signed into law a bill designed to rein in spiraling health care costs.

The bill is intended to save up to $200 billion in health care costs over the next 15 years in part by encouraging the creation of "accountable care organizations" that take a more coordinated approach to medicine instead of the more traditional "fee for service" model.

The doctor wait time survey is based on telephone interviews with about 830 doctor offices statewide between February 28 and April 2. The patient satisfaction was based on a random telephone survey of 403 adults conducted in February.

This program aired on August 8, 2012. The audio for this program is not available.


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