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BMJ. 1999 Sep 18;319(7212):738-43.

Quality at general practice consultations: cross sectional survey.

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Department of Community Health Sciences-General Practice, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh EH8 9DX.



To measure quality of care at general practice consultations in diverse geographical areas, and to determine the principal correlates associated with enablement as an outcome measure.


Cross sectional multipractice questionnaire based study.


Random sample of practices in four participating regions: Lothian, Coventry, Oxfordshire, and west London.


25 994 adults attending 53 practices over two weeks in March and April 1998.


Patient enablement, duration of consultation, how well patients know their doctor, and the size of the practice list.


A hierarchy of needs or reasons for consultation was created. Similar overall enablement scores were achieved for most casemix presentations (mean 3.1, 95% confidence interval 3.1 to 3.1). Mean duration of consultation for all patients was 8.0 minutes (8.0 to 8.1); however, duration of consultation increased for patients with psychological problems or where psychological and social problems coexisted (mean 9.1, 9.0 to 9.2). The 2195 patients who spoke languages other than English at home were analysed separately as they had generally higher enablement scores (mean 4.5, 4.3 to 4.7) than those patients who spoke English only despite having shorter consultations (mean 7.1 (6. 9 to 7.3) minutes. At individual consultations, enablement score was most closely correlated with duration of consultation and knowing the doctor well. Individual doctors had a wide range of mean enablement scores (1.1-5.3) and mean durations of consultation (3. 8-14.4 minutes). Doctors' ability to enable was linked to the duration of their consultation and the percentage of their patients who knew them well and was inversely related to the size of their practice. At practice level, mean enablement scores ranged from 2.3 to 4.4, and duration of consultation ranged from 4.9 to 12.2 minutes. Correlations between ranks at practice level were not significant.


It may be time to reward doctors who have longer consultations, provide greater continuity of care, and both enable more patients and enable patients more.

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