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Doctors Spending More Time Now With Patients
Date:11/9/2009

Quality of care increases with longer doctor visits, researchers add

MONDAY, Nov. 9 (HealthDay News) -- Family doctors are now taking more time consulting with adult patients, seeing them more often and improving the quality of visits, a new study suggests.

"Patients spent more time with their primary care physicians during office visits in 2005 than they did almost a decade earlier, and overall they seemed to receive better care," said Dr. Lena M. Chen, from the University of Michigan Health System, the lead researcher of a study reported in the Nov. 9 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine.

Just as the U.S. health care system is struggling to improve care and lower costs, the researchers noted that the population is aging and doctor income is falling, leading some to worry that doctors might cut patient visits shorter to make up the short fall.

"Any efforts to increase efficiency in primary care should take into account the association between time spent with a physician and quality of care," Chen said.

To find out if these factors affected the quality of care provided by primary care doctors, Chen's team collected data on more than 46,000 visits to primary care doctors between 1997 and 2005.

They found that visits to primary care doctors increased 10 percent, from about 273 million visits in 1997 to 338 million in 2005. And the average duration of an adult primary care visit increased by 16 percent, from 18 minutes to 20.8 minutes, Chen said.

For regular check-ups, time with the doctor went up 3.4 minutes; for diagnosis of diabetes, the visit increased 4.2 minutes; for high blood pressure, 3.7 minutes, and for a diagnosis of joint disease, the visit lengthened 5.9 minutes.

Moreover, quality of care also improved according to nine medical, counseling and screening indicators used by the researchers.

Counseling or screening by doctors took 2.6 to
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