U.S. doctors complain about limited time with patients, but in India patient visits last just 2 minutes

doctor time efficiency
Not enough time with patients? Try practicing in India, where the average patient visit lasts just two minutes.

Doctors in the United States often complain about not having enough time to spend with patients. It’s a good thing they aren’t practicing elsewhere around the globe.

Primary care appointments last five minutes or less in 18 countries that represent half the world’s population, according to a new study published in BMJ Open.

In India, for instance, the average visit with a primary care doctor lasts two minutes. In contrast, visits in the U.S. average more than 20 minutes—which many doctors here say isn’t sufficient.

Only in Sweden, where a primary care visit averages 22.5 minutes, do doctors get greater time with patients, according to the study, which looked at international variations in primary care visits in 67 countries. There was wide variation across the globe, with the range as low as just 48 seconds in Bangladesh.

"It is concerning that 18 countries covering around 50% of the world's population have a latest-reported mean consultation length of five minutes or less. Such a short consultation length is likely to adversely affect patient care and the workload and stress of the consulting physician," said the researchers, who were mostly from U.K. hospitals.

The researchers said the reasons for such striking differences in visit times may be related to factors such as governance, workforce, access and coordination. In countries such as Pakistan, Bangladesh and China, where the times were lowest, there is no appointment system and primary care doctors may see over 90 patients a day, with much of their time taken up providing prescription refills, the study said.

U.S. doctors may find it hard to believe, but the average length of appointments here has actually increased steadily to over 20 minutes, despite a relatively stable proportion of primary care doctors for every 1,000 people, the study found. But take that in context, as the length of appointments increased by just 12 seconds a year.

A study released this fall found that 95% of patients are satisfied with their primary care physicians, but both patients and doctors agree that they don’t have all the time they need together.