Objectives: The study examined availability of psychiatrists for outpatient appointments in three U.S. cities.
Methods: Posing as patients, investigators called 360 psychiatrists listed in a major insurer's database in Boston, Houston, and Chicago (N=120 per city) and attempted to make appointments. Callers claimed to have Blue Cross Blue Shield or Medicare or said they would pay out of pocket (N=120 per payer type, divided evenly across cities).
Results: In round 1 of calling, investigators were able to reach 119 of the 360 psychiatrists (33%). Of 216 unanswered calls, 36% were returned. After two calling rounds, appointments were made with 93 psychiatrists (26%). Significant differences were noted between cities but not between payer type.
Conclusions: Obtaining outpatient appointments with psychiatrists in three cities was difficult, irrespective of payer. RESULTS suggest that expanding insurance coverage alone may do little to improve access to psychiatrists-or worse, expansion might further overwhelm the capacity of available services.