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Are You Spending More Time With Your Doctor?

A recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine (1/18/01) disputes the widely held notion that managed care has reduced the amount of time doctors spend with their patients. If anything, according to this study, office visits may be getting longer! The study was based on surveys of doctors and their staffs, and included more than 200,000 office visits over 10 years. The average length of an office visit actually increased between 1989 and 1998 to 18 minutes to 21 minutes, according to which database you use.

While office visits by patients covered by managed care plans doubled, the average time spent by doctors during office visits was nearly the same regardless of type of insurance. Interestingly, most complaints of short visits or time pressures are from physicians; most studies of patients suggest that they are generally satisfied with the care they get.

The researchers did suggest changes in recent years that may have placed more demands on doctors' time. For example, doctors are treating more complex cases during office visits instead of in the hospital.  Another big time zapper is the increased burden of too much paperwork.  That's also one of the major shortcomings of this study:  it was based upon physician and staff reporting how much time they spent with each patient, not an actual, objective measurement.

Of course, what's most important for you is not really how much time you spend with your doctor, but how much you benefit from the visit. 

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Created: 2/27/2001  -  Donnica Moore, M.D.

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