Background: Psychological problems present a huge burden of illness in our community and GPs are the main providers of care. There is evidence that longer consultations in general practice are associated with improved quality of care; but this needs to be balanced against the fact that doctor time is a limited resource and longer consultations may lead to reduced access to health care. The aim of this research was to conduct a systematic literature review to determine whether management of psychological problems in general practice is associated with an increased consultation length and to explore whether longer consultations are associated with better health outcomes for patients with psychological problems.
Methods: A search was conducted on Medline (Ovid) databases up to 7 June 2006. The following search terms, were used:general practice or primary health care (free text) or family practice (MeSH)AND consultation length or duration (free text) or time factors (MeSH)AND depression or psychological problems or depressed (free text).A similar search was done in Web of Science, Pubmed, Google Scholar, and Cochrane Library and no other papers were found. Studies were included if they contained data comparing consultation length and management or detection of psychological problems in a general practice or primary health care setting. The studies were read and categories developed to enable systematic data extraction and synthesis.
Results: 29 papers met the inclusion criteria. Consultations with a recorded diagnosis of a psychological problem were reported to be longer than those with no recorded psychological diagnosis. It is not clear if this is related to the extra time or the consultation style. GPs reported that time pressure is a major barrier to treating depression. There was some evidence that increased consultation length is associated with more accurate diagnosis of psychological problems.
Conclusion: Further research is needed to elucidate the factors in longer consultations that are associated with greater detection of psychological problems, and to determine the association between the detection of psychological problems and the attitude, gender, age or training of the GP and the age, gender and socioeconomic status of the patient. These are important considerations if general practice is to deal more effectively with people with psychological problems.