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Getting an Appointment With a Psychiatrist Often Difficult

Of 360 U.S. doctors called in study, only one-quarter agreed to see 'patient'

THURSDAY, Oct. 16, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Residents of major U.S. metropolitan areas who need a psychiatrist are often likely to have difficulty securing an appointment, regardless of ability to pay, according to research published online Oct. 15 in Psychiatric Services.

For the study, investigators tried to get an appointment with 360 outpatient psychiatrists based in either Boston, Houston, or Chicago. All were listed in the database of a major private insurer, and a maximum of two attempts were made. The researchers found that, in the first attempt, four in 10 calls were answered. However, not all answers resulted in a connection with a psychiatrist's office, given that 16 percent of the numbers listed in the database were incorrect. Unanswered calls, meanwhile, were returned a little more than one-third of the time, with return calls more common in Boston than in Houston. Yet even after two calls -- and despite having insurance or declaring a willingness to pay out of pocket -- appointments were secured with only about one-quarter of the doctors. And the average waiting time was 25 days for a first visit.

Additionally, the researchers note, about one in five psychiatrists weren't accepting any new patients. In 5 percent of cases, the patient's intended form of payment/reimbursement wasn't accepted, and another 5 percent of offices wanted more information before booking an appointment. But more than half the time (55 percent), failure was due to a basic inability to reach the physician, often because the phone number given was incorrect.

The findings support other national research indicating that two-thirds of primary care physicians can't secure outpatient mental health services for their patients who need them, according to the researchers.

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