Public Release: 

What determines consultation length?

Consultation length in general practice

BMJ

Patients are satisfied with the care they receive from general practice, but often say that consultations are too short. A study in this week's BMJ finds that characteristics of patients have as much effect on consultation length as the characteristics of the doctor and the doctor's country.

Researchers selected 190 general practitioners from six European countries with different healthcare systems. They videotaped and analysed consultations with 3,674 patients.

The average length of consultation was 10.7 minutes. Belgium and Switzerland had the longest consultation times, Germany and Spain had the shortest consultation times, and consultation times for the Netherlands and the United Kingdom were in between.

Consultations in city practices lasted 1.5 minutes longer than those in rural practices, those with women patients lasted about 1 minute longer than those with men, and those about at least one new problem lasted 51 seconds longer than those about known problems.. Consultations were also longer when the doctor or patient felt that psychological problems were important.

As the patient's age increased by one year, the consultation time increased by 1.2 seconds, while the consultation time decreased as the doctor's workload increased. The doctor's sex or age and patient's level of education were not related to the length of consultation.

Based on these findings, women consulting general practitioners in urban practices about problems perceived as psychosocial by doctor and patient have longer consultations than other patients, conclude the authors.

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