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Want to see a doctor? Be prepared to wait!

February 17, 2014: 6:00 AM ET

Need to see a doctor, but it's not an emergency? You might have to wait a few weeks, though it depends on where you live.

Dallas residents may be able to get an appointment to see a family physician in five days, on average, but Bostonians might have to flip two months ahead on the calendar to mark the first available appointment for new patients.

Merritt Hawkins, a physician recruitment firm, surveyed the average time it takes for new patients to see a doctor for non-emergency issues in five specialties in 15 large metropolitan areas in 2013. The specialties were cardiology, dermatology, obstetrics/gynecology, orthopedic surgery and family practice.

Overall, the average wait time was 18.5 days, down from 20.9 days in 2004. But the delays differed widely depending on the specialty and the city.

Interactive: Doctor wait times by city


The wait times don't correspond to how many doctors are in a city. Boston has 450 doctors per 100,000 residents, more than any of the cities surveyed, but still has among the longest delays in seeing a doctor.

Merritt Hawkins cautioned that patients may be able to see doctors sooner than when their initial visit is scheduled. Appointment times can open up unexpectedly, allowing patients to secure earlier visits.

If you're a Medicaid patient, however, you may have a tougher time finding a doctor who will take the public health insurance program. Medicaid often reimburses physicians at lower rates, sometimes below the cost of their providing the service.

Fewer doctors are accepting Medicaid these days, Merritt Hawkins found. Only 45.7% of doctors surveyed took Medicaid patients in 2013, down from 55.4% in 2009. Boston had the highest rate at 73%, while Dallas had the lowest, at 23%.

Whether a doctor is willing to see a Medicaid patient also depends on the specialty. Cardiologists in Seattle and Atlanta are more likely to accept Medicaid than orthopedic surgeons in those cities, for instance.

Interactive: Medicaid acceptance rates by city


Medicare patients are more likely to see receptive doctors, though not everywhere. Some 98% of the Boston doctors surveyed accepted Medicare. In most of the cities surveyed, at least seven of 10 doctors took the federal insurance for the elderly.

But in New York, only 49% of doctors surveyed said they take Medicare, while in Minneapolis, only 38% do.

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