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a clock imageNovember 13 2017

Averaging under 10 minutes for the average duration of a GP consultation, the UK ranks 29th out of 67 countries, a BMJ Open study has found.

Data from 178 studies since 1952 was included in the analysis, with 16 papers relating to UK GP consultations. Analysis of the long term trends indicated that GP consultation length in the UK has increased over time, but was currently relatively stable, increasing at around 4.2 seconds a year. However, data was very mixed for the UK, with studies since 2002 indicating average consultation times ranging anywhere between 8.65 minutes and 11.7 minutes.

“It is also interesting to note that at the current rate of change, the consultation length in the UK would only reach 15 min in 2086,” said the researchers.

By way of comparison, the average consultation time in the USA has increased to over 20 minutes, and in Australia it is just under 15 minutes.

In addition, the data indicates that, on a global basis, length of consultation was significantly associated with:

  • national spend on healthcare per head of the population;
  • the number of primary care doctors per 1,000 of the population;
  • doctor burnout and ‘depersonalisation’.

However, it was not associated with:

  • the number of consultations per patient in a given year;
  • the number of diagnostic tests requested by the doctor;
  • the number of attendances at emergency care departments;
  • patient satisfaction.

Shorter consultation length was also found to be associated with multiple drugs prescribed to a patient (polypharmacy), overuse of antibiotics, and poor communication with patients.

The RCGP has said the 10-minutes consultation is no longer fit for purpose. RCGP Chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said: “It’s concerning to see that every UK study included in this research shows that we are spending less than 10 minutes on average with our patients during their consultation. It backs up previous research showing that consultation times are amongst the lowest in Western Europe and other comparable health systems around the world.

“Increasingly, patients are living with multiple, long-term chronic conditions, both physical and psychological – and at the same time GPs are being asked to do more checks, ask more questions and give more advice as standard during consultations. The standard 10-minute appointment is simply inadequate to deal with this.”

She noted that the latest independent GP Patient Survey “found patients will already be waiting a week or more for an appointment with a GP or practice nurse on 100 million occasions by 2020.”

Links:
BMJ Open announcement             
G Irving et al. ‘International variations in primary care physician consultation time: a systematic review of 67 countries’. BMJ Open 2017;7:e017902                 
RCGP comment                  

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