Travel and Wait Times for Health Care Services Remain Higher than Other Professional Services, Adding Up to an Annual Opportunity Cost of $89 Billion

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Sarah Litton
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February 22, 2019

Ann Arbor, MI — US consumers spend an average of 34 minutes on travel and 11 minutes waiting each time they access health care services, a burden which represents an annual opportunity cost of $89 billion, according to analysis released today by Altarum, a nonprofit health research and consulting institute.

Notably, the total time consumers spend waiting for health care services is more than double the average time spent waiting for other professional services, including government services (such as obtaining a license or permit), veterinary services, legal services, and vehicle repair services.

Travel and wait times for health care have not changed in recent years even as the health sector has made investments in technology aimed at improving efficiency, from digitizing health records to automating administrative processes.

Based on data from the American Time Use Survey from 2006 to 2017, the analysis includes a range of health services, from primary care and inpatient treatment to dental care and physical therapy.

Travel and wait times were similar across a variety of demographics, including income and geography (urban and rural areas).

“The findings underscore the need for the health sector to focus greater attention on decreasing consumer travel and wait times to ease the burden on consumers,” says report author and Senior Analyst Corey Rhyan. Technological improvements—including in-home and telehealth care—can reduce travel and wait times as can improvements in administrative efficiency, such as reducing paperwork and improving appointment scheduling and alerts for patients.

The opportunity cost is estimated by quantifying and applying an individual’s hourly wages as an approximate measure of the economic cost of time spent. More information about the findings and methodology is available in the full report, “Travel and Wait Times are Longest for Health Care Services and Result in an Annual Opportunity Cost of $89 Billion.”


Altarum is a nonprofit organization that creates and implements solutions to advance health among vulnerable and publicly insured populations.