Sitting in a waiting room to see the doctor after fighting traffic is more than just inconvenient and time-consuming.  It’s also quite costly: as much as $89 billion per year. 

That’s the average annual economic cost of the time spent traveling and waiting to obtain health care services based on the average hourly wage for an individual, according to a research brief by Altarum, using data from the American Time Use Survey by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“Time spent on travel and waiting for care is an underappreciated burden of the U.S. health care system. It results in a significant cost on patients, as individuals must forgo either leisure, work, or home activities in order to see a professional.”

-Altarum study authors

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, approximately 40% of Americans suffer from one or more chronic condition.  As employees, they’re spending a lot of time trying to get care – time spent that might impact their productivity and presence at work. 

Chronic conditions affect employers

There are other indirect costs to poorly managed conditions as well.  A 2018 report by the American Diabetes Association found that indirect costs related to diabetes, including increased absenteeism, reduced productivity, and the inability to work because of disease-related disability, cost $354 per day for the average worker.  Full-time workers with diabetes will miss an average of 5.5 extra workdays per year. 

A report released in November 2018 by the Integrated Benefits Institute found that illness-related lost productivity costs U.S. employers a total of $530 billion per year, with $198 billion from impaired performance attributed to chronic health conditions and $82 billion related to opportunity costs of absence (missed revenues, costs of hiring substitutes, and overtime).

Every business, regardless of its size, has a significant percentage of its employees trying to manage a chronic illness.  An employer’s ability to do that has a direct impact on the success of their business.

Minimizing the impact of travel & wait times

Proper management and regular visits can keep people with these chronic conditions as healthy as possible.  Making it easier to access care will help address these indirect costs to time, productivity and your business.  Employers, from large corporations to smaller businesses can’t solve these access issues on their own.  Rather, the place to start can be their health plan. 

Here are some ways health plans are helping to alleviate the impact of travel and waiting to access care. 


Experts agree on the important role a primary care doctor plays in the health care delivery system.  But it’s not always possible or convenient to see your doctor.  Telemedicine is not intended to replace individuals’ relationships with their primary care doctors.   Here are some ways health plans are helping to alleviate the impact of travel and waiting to access care. 

It’s an alternative to seeking care from an urgent care facility or emergency room, or when it is difficult to obtain services from a primary doctor.  With a telemedicine service, individuals can discuss common medical issues, such as cold and flu symptoms, bronchitis, allergies, poison ivy, pink eye, sinus problems, ear infections and more.

Chronic condition self-management apps

People are beginning to use digital apps to help them make decisions about their health. In fact, it’s been shown that people with diabetes are able to self-manage their conditions much better if they have ongoing support and guidance.  For example, Independent Health offers the Brook Health Companion to its members at no cost. 

Brook offers dietary reminders, interactive chat function and the ability to monitor and record glucose levels over time.  It also provides interactive support to people with hypertension, as well as to anyone in maintaining their general health.

Onsite preventive care clinics

One of the easiest – and most important – preventive service is the annual flu shot.  Health plans can either set up or help arrange for flu shot sessions at employer groups.  It’s not just for employee health, but the impact of a flu outbreak at a single employer can result in lost productivity and other unnecessary costs.

Wellness debit cards

More and more health plans offer prepaid debit cards to encourage their members to engage in different health and wellness activities, such as fitness center memberships, health classes, and stress-reducing yoga, which all encourage employees to adopt and maintain healthy choices. 

These are just a few of the many ways to help address the impact of travel and wait times on accessing care.  For employers, anything that negatively affects or delays output and productivity will cost money.  Improving ways for employees to get the care they need and addressing the drivers of poor health will save money for everyone in the long run.