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Effects of interventions aimed at changing the length of time of consultations between family doctors and patients

Wilson AD, Childs S
Published Online: 
21 January 2009


There has been concern that doctors do not have enough time with patients during consultations. It has been suggested that if doctors and patients have more time to talk then patients might be more satisfied with care and their problems might be better dealt with, or doctors might prescribe less and talk more about how to make lifestyle changes. But does research show that increasing the length of consultations benefits patients, doctors and the health care system overall?

This systematic review found five studies testing whether methods to change consultation length provides any benefits. These studies changed appointment lengths which led to smaller changes in actual consultation lengths. The studies found that given more consultation time, doctors and patients did not discuss more problems, or psychological problems.

With more time, doctors did not prescribe more drugs, did not run more tests, did not make more referrals and did not do more examinations (except perhaps checking blood pressure more often). People were not more satisfied with their care with longer consultations, and longer consultations did not change whether they came back for another appointment about the same medical problem. But with more time, doctors did discuss how patients could take better control of their health, for example, by quitting smoking. It is not clear whether longer or shorter consultations changed doctors' level of stress. It is also not clear whether longer consultations improved the overall health of patients, and there were no studies evaluating whether longer consultations improved the behaviours of patients or saved or wasted money for the health care system.

In conclusion, there were only five studies which were short term and not of high quality. Therefore, at this time, there is not enough evidence to say whether increasing the amount of time that doctors consult with patients provides benefits or not.