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Soc Sci Med. 1997 Apr;44(7):925-34.

Duration of general practice consultations: association with patient occupational and educational status.

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  • 1Discipline of Behavioural Science in Relation to Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, University of Newcastle, Wallsend, NSW, Australia.


Past studies have demonstrated that the majority of health care visits are made to general practitioners, and that socio-economically disadvantaged individuals are significantly more likely to use such services. Relatively little is known, however, about the quality of general practice care provided to patients of different socio-economic status. The specific aims of the study were to determine whether an association existed between consultation duration and patient educational and occupational status, and if an association was evident, to determine the extent of association after taking into account a range of identified confounding variables and the effect of a clustered sample design. Consecutive consultations from a randomly selected sample of general practitioners were audiotaped and their durations measured electronically. Patient education and occupational status were obtained by questionnaire. Information concerning a range of additional patient, practitioner and consultation variables was also assessed in order to identify possible confounders of the association between consultation duration and patient occupational and educational status. No association was evident between consultation duration and level of patient educational qualification. Independent of identified confounding variables and the effect of a clustered sample design, general practitioners spent less time with those patients employed in unskilled occupations. Unskilled patients received 2.1 min or 21% less time per consultation than patients in professional occupations. The odds of patients in unskilled occupations receiving a long consultation (> 10 min) were 26% less than the odds of patients in professional occupations. The finding of an occupational status differential in the duration of general practice consultations suggests that socio-economically disadvantaged patients may not be receiving the health care they require. Further research is required to confirm these findings and to identify whether similar differentials are evident in more specific elements of general practice care.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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