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Locum GP Consultation – Managing Your Time Effectively

Controlling Locum GP Consultation Times

This article is here to help all GP’s control the time their consultations take. We will touch upon effective time management, dealing with several key issues and keeping patients informed. A locum GP consultation can prove more challenging with not knowing any of the patients that are coming to visit.  

Over the years the average locum GP consultation time has increased in the UK. Between 2007 – 2014 the average length of a consultation has increased by over a minute per consultation. With this in mind, the UK still has a shorter consultation time on average compared to many other European countries.

Most locum GP consultations consist of around 10 minutes, with this short period of time every minute matters. Running late for consultations can be stressful for everyone involved.

There are various factors that can determine the length of a consultation, with this you can implement numerous measures to ensure that you don’t go over your allotted consultation time.

A number of specific factors have been found to increase the length of the consultation, including the presence of psychosocial problems and a positive attitude towards them by the GP.

New problems, city-based practices and female patients are also associated with longer consultation times. It would also seem logical that those presenting with multiple problems would increase the length of the consultation.

Being aware of these factors can enable locum GP’s to pay more attention to time keeping and implement strategies to help time management.


Managing time effectively

Start as you mean to go on

Arriving at the surgery early will allow time to settle in, have a drink, check emails, start the computer up, prepare for the first patient and start the surgery on time. Starting late will snowball into being late for all other consultations.

Adjust your booking intervals

If you are currently working with consultations of less than 10 minutes, it may be worth increasing to a 10-minute slot if you find that you often run behind or finish late. Especially with the average locum GP consultation time being just over 9 minutes.

Be comfortable with the IT system

Battling with the computer is a sure way to slow you down. Make sure you are familiar with the system and aware of any shortcuts that can be used.

Learning to touch type if you cannot already, can also be a timesaver.

Keep patients informed

Most patients don’t know the length of time their consultation is booked for. Informing patients when they book will help with their expectations of the consultation.

They should also be informed that they have the option of booking a longer or double appointment if they have a number of things to go through.

Book appropriately

If there is a patient who you know always makes you run late who is booking a follow-up appointment, encourage them to do so at the end of a surgery so it does not affect the rest of your appointments.


Multiple problems

A 10-minute locum GP consultation is not long enough to adequately deal with a long list of problems, unless they are each very minor, which we all know is usually not the case.

It helps if you can try to identify early on in the consultation whether the patient has come with multiple ailments. As a GP you should ask non-verbal questions and pick up on non-verbal cues. You should also be direct and ask the patient if they have more than one illness, ailment or injury.

The best thing to do when presented with a list of problems is to prioritise. Asking the patient which he or she considers to be the most important is one approach, however, most of the time it is clear that there is a clinical priority within the list.

Consider a polite way of asking the patient to reattend so that the other problems can be tackled. Most patients will be pleased that you want to spend time dealing with their problems effectively.


Ending the consultation

There are times when, despite the consultation clearly being over, patients continue to chat or prolong the consultation.

As long as the patient’s needs have been met within the consultation, this is a time when breaking rapport is acceptable and necessary to keep within your allotted consultation slot and not hold up other patients.

Ways to do this include:

  • Breaking eye contact
  • Altering your body position away from the patient
  • Speaking faster and louder than the patient
  • Sitting up straighter
  • Handing over a prescription or patient information leaflet or starting to stand up

In some cases, it may even be necessary to stand up and open the door for the patient.


Key learning points

  • Consultation times have increased over recent years.
  • Female patients, psychosocial problems, new problems and city-based practices all have longer consultation times on average.
  • Prioritise problems when patients attend with a list.
  • Be prepared to break rapport to end the consultation.

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Suhel Ahmed
Suhel Ahmed

Great piece. Thanks guys



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