6-minute medicine a myth


A new study challenges the notion we are in the age of 6-minute medicine, finding the average GP consult lasts 15 minutes and has done for the past two decades.

This is three times more than what half the world’s population living in 18 countries receives, according to a new study comparing primary care consult times in 67 countries.

The research, published in BMJ Open, found Bangladesh had the shortest mean consult time (48 seconds) and Sweden had the longest (22.5 minutes).

It drew on 178 studies covering more than 28.5 million consultations published between 1946 and 2016 in several languages, 43% were considered ‘grey literature’ as they were not published in peer reviewed journals.

consult times BMJOpen

Australia’s average consult time has hovered around the 15-minute mark since 2000.

This reflects a desire to avoid the increased charge associated with 20 minute appointments, the authors suggest.

Meanwhile in 18 countries – representing about 50 % of the population – the average was five minutes or less.

This is “concerning” the authors said, impacting the wellbeing of patients and doctors alike with an association between short consults and physician burnout identified.

“An average of 5 min may be the limit below which consultations amount to little more than triage and the issue of prescriptions,” they said.

Some of the research linked short consult length to polypharmacy and overuse of antibiotics.

The research supports the claims that shorter consultation length is a good measure of poverty, the authors write, with consult lengths linked to per-capita healthcare spending and primary care physician density.

It also finds that average consult times are shrinking in some middle-income countries, however in the USA rose from 15 minutes to over 20 minutes between 2000-2015.

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