Managing the 10-minute appointment system

With the majority of doctor’s surgeries experiencing an overload of patients, managing 10-minute appointment times can be a nightmare, both for doctors and administration staff. Having a surgery full of patients that are irritated or nervous when their appointments are delayed more than a few minutes, will test even the most experienced doctors and staff.


Duty of care is obviously of paramount importance to all surgeries, but it can be very difficult to manage the usual time of 10-minute practice appointments. GPs can frequently overrun if a patient has a complex condition or needs that extra bit of attention to assist their problems and ease any worries they may have. So how can GPs manage their appointment system effectively? It’s a very hard task and cutting patient times down to a bare minimum, is against the code of practice.


Back in 2013, after consultation with doctors throughout the UK, the government axed the ’10-minute appointment rule’, after realising that some patients need more time, and some can be dealt with in less time. But the question still exists – how can this be managed? Doctors continue to increase their patient list, and add new services to those that they already offer, so how do they manage to cope with the workload, whilst still providing excellent care facilities? It certainly is a dilemma that all GP surgeries face.


Can a Practice Manager ease the burden?

An experienced Practice Manager is always a bonus, but they cannot work miracles. They can sensibly arrange appointments to suit a particular doctor’s workload, but once that patient is in front of the doctor, who knows how long it will take. They can also book appointments with a doctor that has the best knowledge to deal with certain patients, such as those with chronic illness, age-related conditions and even those experienced in paediatrics.


A Practice Manager can also direct patients to any nurses that are available in the surgery, for routine checks on lifestyle complaints, injections, and other tests, once again to ease the workload of the resident GPs.


There can be a considerable amount of pressure on Practice Managers, particularly when they decide whether they can consider telephone appointments to cut down on GP time, or whether a visit is essential. Patient care is always at the forefront of time versus quality.


Using Locums to help manage the 10-minute appointment

Every GP must have a holiday or be sick from time to time – we are all human. Locums are an essential tool for any GP surgery, to fill in the gaps when needed and to ensure optimum patient care. Choosing a locum, particularly if a GP doesn’t normally use them, can be difficult. can really help you with experienced locums that will perfectly fit the bill. All the groundwork will be done, to ensure that the locum suits your practice. They can be a huge asset to helping with your 10-minute appointment slots for a short or longer period of placement.


Make your surgery policies clear

Some patients can be a little unreasonable and treat a GP surgery like dropping into their local supermarket. Making your surgery policies clear, will help a long way to keeping appointment times and length at the right level. So much time can be lost with ‘no shows’ or late arrivals. No shows can cost a surgery not just time, but financial penalties.


Ensuring your text message system is up to date, and also advising patients of any unusual circumstances such as building work, lack of parking space and any other situations that can delay patients arriving on time, will assist you greatly in terms of keeping appointment times running smoothly.


Your Practice Manager should log any persistent non-arrivals or lateness on the patients record system, to enable you to make a sound judgement as to whether that patient should be removed from your list. Harsh, but true – no shows affect other patients and your valuable time.


There are a multitude of other aspects to tighten up your appointment system, which should be clearly displayed in your surgery, to avoid any misunderstandings. Policy signs in the waiting room go a long way to patients understanding what they can and cannot do, in order for them, and you, to achieve the best medical care.


Having staff meetings on a regular basis will considerably help to running an efficient surgery and place a firm footprint on keeping appointment times as best as you possibly can.


Whilst as a GP you will do your best to get through your daily workload with the greatest of intentions, half of the battle is educating your patients to help you achieve this.


Currently, GPs are stating that the average appointment is around 12 minutes, and that a realistic time is actually 15 minutes. Coupled with home visits that take considerably more time, all GPs are really up against it. So is cutting your appointment times really the answer?

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