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BMJ. 1989 Apr 15;298(6679):1008-10.

Quality and the use of time in general practice: widening the discussion.

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Department of General Practice, University of Edinburgh.


To examine the association between different consulting styles in general practice (defined according to the average length of doctor-patient contact time in surgery consultations) and the process of care for those patients presenting with new episodes of respiratory illness, 1787 consultations conducted by 85 general practitioner principals in Lothian from November 1987 to May 1988 were analysed. Short as against long consultations resulted in less attention being given to psychosocial issues that the doctor recognised as relevant. When psychosocial problems were dealt with prescribing of antibiotics decreased. In this volunteer sample of doctors the process of care seemed to reflect decisions as to how time was allocated rather than inherently different patterns of clinical behavior. Organisational and contractual changes will shift the mix of financial and professional incentives for general practitioners in ways that could lead to doctors reallocating their time toward shorter consultations; such a reallocation could have important implications for patient care.

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