About 8 percent of the 36 percent of U.S. adults who needed to see a health specialist in 2007 said getting access to one was a "big problem," according to a federal government study.
The latest News and Numbers from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality also found that:
* Patients who didn't have a usual source of care were much more likely than those with a family physician or other usual source of care to report having difficulty getting specialty care -- 16 percent vs. 6 percent.
* Difficulty getting access to a specialist was more common among non-elderly adults without insurance (26.5 percent) than among non-elderly adults with public coverage (16 percent) or those with private insurance (6 percent).
* Among elderly patients, those with Medicare and supplemental insurance were more likely to say access was a big problem (11 percent) than those with Medicare only (5 percent) or those with Medicare and supplemental private coverage (2.5 percent).
The study was based on data from a national survey that didn't ask respondents the reasons they had difficulty seeing a specialist. But previous research suggests these reasons may include: lack of health insurance; specialist non-participation in patients' health insurance plans; patient difficulty contacting specialists; lengthy wait times to get an appointment; and specialists' office locations.