Background: Although there is widespread concern that general practice consultations are too short for doctors to provide a high quality of care for patients, the relationship between the length and outcome of these consultations remains unclear. Research to date has neglected the subjective experience of consultation time of both patients and GPs.
Objectives: Our aim was to investigate GP perspectives on consultation time and the management of depression in general practice.
Method: A qualitative interview-based study was carried out of 19 GPs from eight West Midlands general practices.
Results: The GPs in this study acknowledged the pressure of work and resource constraints in general practice. However, they did not feel these prevented them from providing good support and treatment for depression. They were confident in the effectiveness of antidepressants and their own skills in providing counselling support, and were able to utilize time flexibly in responding to patients' variable needs. Depression was viewed as a relatively straightforward problem that usually could be managed within the resources available to general practice.
Conclusion: The doctors generally did not experience time to be a limiting factor in providing care for patients with depression. This is in contrast to the more acute sense of time pressure commonly reported by patients which they felt undermined their capacity to benefit from the consultation. GPs need to be more aware of patient anxieties about time, and to devise effective means of raising patients' sense of time entitlement in general practice consultations.