WEDNESDAY, April 24 (HealthDay News) -- U.S. psychiatrists spend a total of 1 million hours on the phone each year getting insurance companies to approve hospitalization for patients with severe mental illnesses, a new study reports.
For the study, which was published April 23 in the journal Annals of Emergency Medicine, researchers looked at psychiatrists in the Boston area and found that they spent an average of 38 minutes per patient on the phone getting insurance authorization.
About one in 10 cases took more than an hour to get approval, and one case took up five hours of the psychiatrist's time, the investigators found.
Each year in the United States, there are about 1.6 million psychiatric admissions for patients with private insurance. An average of 38 minutes of phone time per patient to get insurance authorization works out to about 1 million hours of "wasted" time for psychiatrists nationwide, according to the news release from the Physicians for a National Health Program.
The three-month study did not include uninsured patients or those covered by Medicare, which does not require prior authorization.
Most of the patients that required hospitalization had been deemed suicidal or, in some cases, posed a danger to others. The time spent obtaining insurance authorization delayed care for the patient in need and prevented psychiatrists from seeing other patients, the study authors noted. Only one of the 53 requests for authorization was denied, they pointed out.
The average time that patients spent in an emergency department (ED) awaiting hospital admission was 8.5 hours. The shortest wait was three hours and the longest was 20 hours, according to the study findings.
Mental health disorders affect nearly one-quarter of American adults a year, but less than one-third of them receive psychiatric care, according to background information in the news release.
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