To determine a national average wait time for developmental pediatric evaluations and to understand differences in access based on whether an appointment is requested by an English or Spanish-speaking caller.
We conducted a mystery shopper study in which a bilingual research assistant called developmental pediatrics programs affiliated with US children's hospitals listed on a public directory requesting an appointment for his simulated child experiencing a developmental problem. If an appointment was not provided, a wait time estimate was requested. Programs that provided an estimate in English were called within 24 hours using a translated script. We excluded programs that did not include a developmental pediatrician, only accepted referrals from within their health system or plan, focused on specific disorders, or did not conduct initial evaluations.
Of 244 hospitals listed, 140 unique programs were identified and called in English. One hundred four programs were reached. Ninety programs met inclusion criteria, 75 provided an estimated wait time. The mean estimate was 5.4 months (standard deviation: 4.5). Among these 75 programs, 62 were reached in Spanish but only 55% provided a wait time estimate; 31% did not provide language accommodations. The difference between average estimates obtained in English and Spanish was not statistically significant.
Among a national sample of US children's hospitals, we identified barriers to evaluations conducted by developmental pediatricians including long wait times and inadequate Spanish language accommodations at some programs. More work is needed to identify optimal strategies to connect children with developmental concerns to evaluations when necessary.