In the 15 years since dermatology access was last investigated on a national scale, the practice landscape has changed with the rise of private equity (PE) investment and increased use of nonphysician clinicians (NPCs).
To determine appointment success and wait times for patients with various insurance types at clinics with and without PE ownership.
In this study, PE-owned US clinics were randomly selected and matched with 2 geographically proximate clinics without PE ownership. Researchers called each clinic 3 times over a 5-day period to assess appointment/clinician availability for a fictitious patient with a new and changing mole. The 3 calls differed by insurance type specified, which were Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBS) preferred provider organization, Medicare, or Medicaid.
Appointment success and wait times among insurance types and between PE-owned clinics and control clinics. Secondary outcomes were the provision of accurate referrals to other clinics when appointments were denied and clinician and next-day appointment availability.
A total of 1833 calls were made to 204 PE-owned and 407 control clinics without PE ownership across 28 states. Overall appointment success rates for BCBS, Medicare, and Medicaid were 96%, 94%, and 17%, respectively. Acceptance of BCBS (98.5%; 95% CI, 96%-99%; P = .03) and Medicare (97.5%; 95% CI, 94%-99%; P = .02) were slightly higher at PE-owned clinics (compared with 94.6% [95% CI, 92%-96%] and 92.8% [95% CI, 90%-95%], respectively, at control clinics). Wait times (median days, interquartile range [IQR]) were similar for patients with BCBS (7 days; IQR, 2-22 days) and Medicare (7 days; IQR, 2-25 days; P > .99), whereas Medicaid patients waited significantly longer (13 days; IQR, 4-33 days; P = .002). Clinic ownership did not significantly affect wait times. Private equity-owned clinics were more likely than controls to offer a new patient appointment with an NPC (80% vs 63%; P = .001) and to not have an opening with a dermatologist (16% vs 6%; P < .001). Next-day appointment availability was greater at PE-owned clinics than controls (30% vs 21%; P = .001).
Patients with Medicaid had significantly lower success in obtaining appointments and significantly longer wait times regardless of clinic ownership. Although the use of dermatologists and NPCs was similar regardless of clinic ownership, PE-owned clinics were more likely than controls to offer new patient appointments with NPCs.