Using the American Time Use Survey, I calculate that Americans age 15 and older collectively spent 847 million hours waiting for medical services to be provided in 2007. That’s a lot of bills to be delivered to health care providers.
Three percent of Americans traveled from their home to receive health care on any given day in 2007. The corresponding figures are 5 percent for women and 2 percent for men.
If you count health care-related activities writ large – including time traveling to a doctor, waiting to see a doctor, being examined and treated, taking medication, obtaining medical care for others, and paying bills – the average American spent 1.1 hours a week obtaining health care in 2007.
Not surprisingly, those over age 60 spent twice as much time obtaining medical care, on average, than did those age 15 to 60. Women spent about 70 percent more time on health care activities than men.
If we value all people’s time at the average hourly wage of production and nonsupervisory workers ($17.43 in 2007), Americans spent the equivalent of $240 billion on health care in 2007.
Put another way, omitting patients’ time caused national health care expenditures to be undercounted by 11 percent in 2007.
- A Hidden Cost of Health Care, Alan B. Krueger
Add to this that the amount of time we spend waiting to receive health care increases even as the cost of health care increases, and what you've got on your hands is a big, expensive mess.
I'm not exactly sure how this is a "hidden" cost of healthcare. Every time I have to mark against my sick time, or even my vacation time, because I had a dentist or doctor appointment and I have to take an additional hour here and there for time spent sitting in the waiting room, it's a cost that certainly isn't hidden from me. Since October I have had some 10 dentist visits to have a crown filled, a tooth pulled, a bone graft -- and will have several more once they put in the post and crown over the coming months. In addition to using all of my sick time last year, I also went through two of my five days of vacation time so that I could make it to all of my appointments. One more dentist appointment and I would have had my paycheck cut at the end of the year.
I agree that doctors should do more to monitor and improve wait times for their patients, but...what more? If we do keep medical records and doctors are already getting patients through the system as quickly as possible, what to do with all of those lost hours and all of that lost time or money? Compensate patients for time wasted in waiting rooms? Offer tax credits? What?