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Worry about ‘timewasting’ putting patients off GP appointments

doctors waiting room

Worries over wasting their doctor’s time, particularly at a time when NHS resources are stretched, may influence when and whether patients choose to see their GP, according to a study carried out by the University of Cambridge.

The study, published today in the journal Social Science and Medicine, came after researchers noticed in another study that the theme of  ‘wasting doctors’ time was so common that they decided to study this separately.

“‘Am I wasting the doctor’s time?’ is a question that many patients ask themselves when deciding whether or not to visit the doctor,” says study leader Dr Nadia Llanwarne, who led the study. “We already knew that this worry existed among some patients, but this is the first study entirely dedicated to the subject that reports the existence of this worry among a variety of patients, young and old, healthy and sick, visiting their GP for a wide range of complaints.”

As part of the study, the researchers filmed patients’ consultations with their GPs and then interviewed 52 patients across GP surgeries in London, the east of England and south west England about their experience. It was in these interviews that the issue of timewasting arose.

The researchers identified three themes common to the issue of timewasting: the experience of a conveyor belt approach to care, the intimation that ‘other patients’ waste time, and uncertainty among patients over what is worthy of their doctor’s time.

Study authors considered the reasons why people were worried about wasting the GP’s time; patients spoke of the demand on NHS services, the lack of time and busy staff. Patients talked about how understanding the time pressure doctors were under influenced their decision to make an appointment.

“Recognising this worry about timewasting among patients is important because it could influence whether a patient chooses to see the doctor or not. If a patient decided to hold off seeing the doctor for fear of wasting resources, this could have serious implications for their health.”

Dr Llanwarne adds: “It’s important for patients to not delay contacting their doctor simply because of worry about wasting doctors’ time. And it’s important for doctors to be attentive to the fact that many patients will be worried about this. Doctors can then ensure they allay patients’ concerns when they do seek help.”

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