The workload of GPs: consultations of patients with psychological and somatic problems compared

Else M Zantinge, Peter F M Verhaak, Jan J Kerssens, Jozien M Bensing
British Journal of General Practice: the Journal of the Royal College of General Practitioners 2005, 55 (517): 609-14

BACKGROUND: GPs report that patients' psychosocial problems play a part in 20% of all consultations. GPs state that these consultations are more time-consuming and the perceived burden on the GP is higher.

AIM: To investigate whether GPs' workload in consultations is related to psychological or social problems of patients.

DESIGN OF STUDY: A cross-sectional national survey in general practice, conducted in the Netherlands from 2000-2002.

SETTING: One hundred and four general practices in the Netherlands.

METHOD: Videotaped consultations (n = 1392) of a representative sample of 142 GPs were used. Consultations were categorised in three groups: consultations with a diagnosis in the International Classification of Primary Care chapter P 'psychological' or Z 'social' (n = 138), a somatic diagnosis but with a psychological background according to the GP (n = 309), or a somatic diagnosis and background (n = 945). Workload measures were consultation length, number of diagnoses and GPs' assessment of sufficiency of patient time.

RESULTS: Consultations in which patients' mental health problems play a part (as a diagnosis or in the background) take more time and involve more diagnoses, and the GP is more heavily burdened with feelings of insufficiency of patient time. In consultations with a somatic diagnosis but psychological background, GPs more often experienced a lack of time compared to consultations with a psychological or social diagnosis.

CONCLUSION: Consultations in which the GP notices psychosocial problems make heavier demands on the GP's workload than other consultations. Patients' somatic problems that have a psychological background induce the highest perceived burden on the GP.

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