Background: Past estimates of the length of Australian general practice consultations have been based on Medicare item numbers claimed, which carries probable serious inaccuracies.
Aims: To describe the length of general practitioner consultations.
Methods: A random sample of 926 GPs recorded the start and finish times in minutes of their consultations for which a Medicare item number was claimed between April 2000 and March 2001, within a continuous cross sectional national study of general practice activity.
Results: Mean length of the consultations was 14.8 minutes (range 1-106). Mean length per GP varied widely (mean of means 14.8, range 3-39, mode 15.0 minutes). Female GPs had significantly longer consultations than males. Younger (< 45 years) male metropolitan GPs had the shortest mean length. Most attendances (85.7%) were designated Level B, 1.5% as Level A, 11.7% Levels C and 1.1% as level D. Mean length of Level A was 7.1 minutes, Level B-13.0, Level C-26.1, and Level D-44.9 minutes.
Conclusion: This study suggests that the majority of GPs are not practising 'six minute medicine', and may assist cost projections of any changes to the Medicare Schedule.