15-minute appointments don’t cut it in today’s primary care

Doc time

If they once worked in doctor’s offices, the 15-minute appointment is unrealistic in today’s primary care practice, according to one doc.

“What we see is that the traditional office visit can no longer meet the needs of 21st century primary care,” writes Jennifer Frank, M.D., a family physician in private practice in Wisconsin, in a blog post on Physicians Practice. As her own primary care practice undergoes a redesign, one issue that is clear to everyone is that patients are more complex overall, she says.

Frank recalls when she was a high school student 30 years ago and worked for a local general practitioner in town. The doctor would double and triple book 15-minute appointment slots. He could keep up the pace because care was a lot simpler, she says. 

Today, Frank says she finds it difficult to see a single patient in just 15 minutes. During one recent day, Frank said she was faced with three patients whose lives were, as she put it, completely falling apart. While they might have come in for abdominal pain or headache, the root of their problems was untreated mental health conditions, severe social stressors and financial, relationship and legal challenges, she says.

The issues doctors need to cover with patients today well exceeds a 15-minute visit. So what’s the solution? First is recognition by clinicians, administrators, payers and patients that the office visit is entirely different in 2016 than it was in 1986, she says.

At least American doctors aren’t the only ones frustrated by the shrinking amount of time they can spend with patients. In Britain, 10-minute patient appointments are running general practices “into the ground,” according to a recent report.