Are Insurance Companies Wasting Your Time?
May 7, 2013
A million hours a year are being spent waiting for approval from insurance companies before doctors can hospitalize suicidal or mentally ill patients, according to the Annals of Emergency Medicine.

Unlike medical emergencies, psychiatric emergencies require permission from a patient’s insurance company before an individual can be admitted. Dr. Amy Funkenstein, a child and adolescent psychiatry resident at Brown University, coauthored the study that produced this number after becoming increasingly frustrated with the amount of time she was spending on the insurance approval process. The study found that the approval process takes 38 minutes per patient on average – meaning that the 1.6 million psychiatric admissions per year translate into 1 million hours of time described by Dr. Funkenstein as “wasted.” Although half of the insurance approvals were obtained in less than 20 minutes, 10 percent of authorizations took longer than one hour, and one authorization took five hours. The patients in need of admittance most commonly presented with suicidal ideation, though a few were diagnosed as being homicidal.

Despite the amount of time spent on the authorization process, very few cases are being denied (just one case of the 53 included in this study was not authorized by the insurance company). The study evaluated a sample of 53 patients at the Cambridge Health Alliance Psychiatric Emergency Department in Massachusetts over a three-month period.