The shrinking appointment

Primary health care physicians are running off their feet.

There are thousands of sick clients to see and never enough time to see them. It’s impossible to keep up with demand.

For the past several decades, the prevailing solution to this problem in primary health care across North America has been to offer 15, 10 or 5 minute appointments – to fit more clients in each day.

But built into this solution is the assumption that shorter appointments is somehow enough.

Enough for who, exactly?

The thing about shorter appointments is they jeopardize client trust and well-being. Spending less time makes it difficult for clients to be more involved in their health. And studies have shown that when physicians are rushed for time, they’re more likely to make diagnostic errors, which can lead to serious and unnecessary harm.

Nurse practitioners have been one solution to ease the burden in primary health care, but in many ways we’re being hired as ever cheaper labour to do ever shorter visits.

One physician wasn’t happy when I explained that longer appointments and using digital communication are the solutions to the problems in primary health care. I told him that providing clients with more time allows us to listen and answer questions better. Spending more time and using digital communication allows us to provide clients with a health care experience they actually want. And it enables us to reach more clients with more information they need to better manage their health.

Primary care shouldn’t have to be as hard as it is.

If we give clients the time and attention they need, they’ll be happier.

If we help clients make lasting change and prevent problems down the road, they won’t cost the system as much.

If we empower clients to become involved in their health and their care, they’ll be better off.

Imagine car mechanics simply gave up working on our cars after 15 minutes, regardless if the work was done right? If restaurants took our plates away before we finished eating? If stores made us buy what was in our hands and shooed us out the door if we were taking too long?

So many organizations spend their time trying to make a better experience, an experience clients actually want. There’s no way diagnostic testing and prescriptions can make up for having little time to listen and teach.

If 10 minutes isn’t enough for the majority of clients, then who’s it for? 

If spending more time means a safer, more accurate and enjoyable experience for clients, why are we rushing appointments?

Slowing down is the fastest and easiest way to improve primary health care. Let’s hurry up and do it now.