Cost of Shortened Consultation Times and its Impact on Primary Care

Primary CareThe duration of consultation time has a notable impact on physicians’ healthcare delivery as well as patient satisfaction. There is a wide belief that longer consultations are better and that primary care physicians should give more time to patients. While outsourcing medical transcription and other documentation tasks such as billing and coding are great options for physicians who want to focus on quality patient care, short consultation time is yet another concern.

As the demand for primary healthcare increases worldwide, the duration of the consultation is also increasingly under pressure and there are concerns about the impact of less time with the physician. Several reports have proven earlier that shorter consultation time can reduce the range of services provided in primary care. A large international analysis report published recently in the medical journal BMJ Open has found that primary care consultations last less than five minutes for half of the world’s population. Such short consultations are likely to adversely affect patient healthcare and satisfaction.

While average consultation length is used in the primary care monitoring tool as an outcome indicator, WHO and the International Network for the Rational Use of Drugs (INRUD) consider this as a quality indicator to promote the safe and cost-effective use of drugs around the world.

Primary care physicians include general practitioners (GPs), family doctors, family practitioners and other physicians working in primary healthcare settings and who perform primary healthcare tasks.

The report highlights that

  • Average consultation times in countries assessed ranged from 22.5 minutes in Sweden to just 48 seconds in Bangladesh
  • Shorter consultation time has also been linked to multiple drugs prescribed to a patient (polypharmacy), overuse of antibiotics and poor relationship with the doctor.
  • It is vital to address this limitation if patients with complex needs and multimorbidity are to be effectively managed within primary care.
  • Increasing the number of doctors in primary care is the best way to improve the length of the consultation.

According to the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP), General Practitioners need more than 10 minutes per appointment as they have to manage increasingly complex patients. It has been reported that even the standard 10-minute appointment is simply inadequate for patients living with multiple, long-term chronic conditions, both physical and psychological.

Primary Care

EHR Documentation Concern

High workload, particularly with administrative tasks can also be a reason that reduces consultation time. EHR documentation during patient visits can also negatively impact proper patient care. According to a study published in Health Affairs, approximately half of the time physicians spend on electronic health record (EHR) tasks each day occurs during patient visits and the other half of their EHR time is taken up by non-patient desk tasks. The report finds that on an average, physicians used their EHRs for around 3.08 hours for office visits each day and 3.17 hours for “desktop medicine” activities, such as typing progress notes, logging telephone encounters, messaging online with patients, refilling prescriptions, ordering tests, reviewing test results, and making referrals. However, having more years of experience using the EHR was associated with slightly less time spent on desktop medicine. EHR-integrated medical transcription services can help family practices with timely documentation of various medical diagnoses and procedures.

Julie Clements

About Julie Clements

Joined the MOS team in March of 2008. Julie Clements has background in the healthcare staffing arena; as well as 6 years as Director of Sales and Marketing at a 4 star resort. Julie was instrumental in the creation of the medical record review division (and new web site); and has especially grown this division along with data conversion of all kinds.